PEC Statement on Air Policy Changes for Shale Gas Development

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PEC joined the Environmental Defense Fund, Group Against Smog and Pollution, and PennFuture in issuing the following Media Statement today.

Harrisburg – Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently proposed changes to an air quality exemption (Exemption 38) pertaining to oil and gas exploration, development, production facilities and associated equipment. Clean Air Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and PennFuture responded to the agency’s changes, expressing support for DEP’s initial steps to strengthen the state’s air quality permitting process, while also suggesting ways it could be improved. Related to oil and natural gas well sites and production activities, DEP’s revision of Exemption 38 signals the agency’s commitment to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations.

“Revised Exemption 38 is a positive step toward reducing harmful emissions associated with oil and gas development in Pennsylvania, but the work doesn’t end here, much more is needed to protect the public health and welfare of state residents,” said Andrew Williams, EDF state legislative and regulatory affairs manager.  “EDF will continue working with local environmental organizations and DEP to push for greater controls of air emissions from natural gas and oil production in the Keystone state.”

New exemption criteria are an improvement over current state law. Previous criteria under category 38 had exempted most all oil and gas well sites and production facilities from any air quality permitting processes. Because state regulators narrowed the scope of exempted sources, facility operators must now implement controls to reduce harmful emissions below specified levels.

However, rigorous oversight and enforcement mechanisms, as well as annual DEP inspection requirements, are needed to ensure that field performance adheres to the state’s air quality standards. DEP must take further action on Exemption 38 by requiring facilities to provide periodic compliance certifications and verification that emission controls satisfy the exemption requirements. Without adequate reporting requirements, there is no assurance that individual sites operating without a permit are actually meeting the exemption requirements.

The groups’ called for such measures in a recent letter filed with the agency.  They are generally encouraged by DEP’s leadership on recent changes to general permits for natural gas processing plants and gas compressor stations that include, among other things, quarterly leak detection and repair monitoring but advocate for further action covering other activities and sources.