Revised General Permits for Natural Gas Production Facilities Available for Public Comment

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In February 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published revisions to “GP-5,” its existing general operating permit and plan approval for natural gas compressor stations, processing plants, and transmissions stations, as well as a proposed new general operating permit and plan approval “GP-5A” for unconventional natural gas well sites and pigging operations. General permits and plan approvals are available to categories of similar sources that are amenable to regulation using standardized specifications and conditions; DEP is able to streamline the approval process for such sources by using general permits. The revisions to GP-5 and proposed new GP-5A were the cornerstones of Governor Tom Wolf’s plan to reduce the natural gas industry’s emissions of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.

According to DEP, it received over 10,000 comments from the public (including one from GASP) regarding the 2017 revisions to GP-5 and proposed GP-5A. DEP has revised GP-5 and GP-5A further, purportedly in response to those comments, and published new versions of GP-5 and GP-5A for public comment on March 31, 2018 (comments will be accepted through May 15, 2018). The 2018 versions of GP-5 and GP-5A differ from the 2017 versions in several respects, not all of which should be welcomed by those concerned with minimizing pollution from the natural gas industry.

First, the 2018 versions of GP-5 and GP-5A expressly rely on Subpart OOOOa of the federal New Source Performance Standards to a much greater extent than did the 2017 versions. A full comparison of Subpart OOOOa, the 2018 versions of GP-5 and GP-5A, and the 2017 versions of GP-5 and GP-5A are beyond the scope of this blog post. Although the requirements imposed by Subpart OOOOa generally received positive reviews from environmentalists when they were introduced in 2016, Subpart OOOOa can be revised by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In fact it already was, in June 2017, and thus limitations applicable to the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania will be subject to the agenda of whomever is control of EPA to a greater extent under the 2018 versions than they would have been under the 2017 versions.

Second, with respect to GP-5, the 2018 version departs from the 2017 version in several other respects:

  • The 2018 version eliminates permit requirements relating to the control of fugitive particulate matter (meaning, dust) from natural gas compressor station and processing plant sites.
  • The 2018 version reduces the required destructive efficiency of flares used to control emissions from compressor stations and processing plants meeting certain thresholds (namely, the uncontrolled potential to emit 200 tons per year of methane, 2.7 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, or 0.5 tons per year of any single hazardous air pollutant) from 98% to 95%.
  • The 2018 version reduces the allowable rate of emissions of some pollutants from some types of stationary spark internal combustion engines at compressor stations and processing plants; the 2018 version also increases the allowable emission rates of some pollutants from some types of such engines.
  • The 2018 version eliminates a requirement that pumps and controllers at compressor stations and processing plants be run on electricity when a connection to the electrical grid is available.
  • The 2018 version eliminates the requirement that natural gas-fired combustion units at compressor stations and processing plants be equipped with and operate fuel flow meters.

Third, with respect to GP-5A, the 2018 version also differs from the 2017 version in several ways:

  • The 2018 version eliminates regulations relating to fugitive particulate matter from well sites and pigging operations, well drilling and hydraulic fracturing operations, well completions, and natural gas-fired combustion units at natural gas well sites and pigging operations. However, Subpart OOOOa does include operating requirements that are applicable to emissions from well drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and well completions, so such emissions will not go unregulated.
  • As with GP-5, the 2018 version of GP-5A reduces the required destructive efficiency of flares used to control emissions from natural gas well sites and pigging operations meeting certain thresholds (namely, the uncontrolled potential to emit 200 tons per year of methane, 2.7 tons per year of volatile organic compounds, or 0.5 tons per year of any single hazardous air pollutant) from 98% to 95%.
  • Also as with GP-5, the 2018 version of GP-5A reduces the allowable rate of emissions of some pollutants from some types of stationary spark internal combustion engines at natural gas well sites and pigging operations; the 2018 version also increases the allowable emission rates of some pollutants from some types of such engines.

The 2018 versions of GP-5 and GP-5A are available on DEP’s web site, at http://www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Air/BAQ/Permits/Pages/GeneralPermits.aspx. Should you wish to comment on the 2018 versions, send your comments to DEP by May 15, 2018 using its eComment system at www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/eComment, or by e-mail to ecomment@pa.gov.  Written comments may be mailed to the Policy Office, Department of Environmental Protection, Rachel Carson State Office Building, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105-2063. No matter how you submit your comments, remember to include your name and address on them.

–John Baillie, Staff Attorney

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