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Methane From Natural Gas Industry Must Be Better Controlled

Methane is the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas in the U.S., and at least a quarter of it comes from our natural gas industry. It’s more than 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span. Methane emissions from this industry must be addressed if we are to combat climate change.

Public health is at risk from climate change. Our health is also endangered by the volatile organic compounds themselves in the gas, and higher levels of ozone, of which volatile organic compounds are precursors. Benzene, ethylbenzene, and n-hexane are examples of air pollution emitted by the natural gas industry. This air pollution causes health effects from dizziness to respiratory impairment to cancer.

Beyond the health and climate risks, these leaks are extremely wasteful. In 2014 the industry leaked $1 billion worth of natural gas—enough to heat almost every home in Pennsylvania. By stopping leaks, the industry will have more product to sell. Many fixes pay for themselves quite quickly.

In August of 2015, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed rules to reduce methane and volatile organic compound pollution from the natural gas and oil sector, starting with new and modified sources. The ultimate goal of the EPA is tair o reduce methane emissions 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025.

The improved standards addressed fixing leaks, “green” completions, and limiting air pollution from different types of equipment like compressor engines and pneumatic controllers. President Obama recently announced similar proposals to address existing sources. Information is being gathered now to identify the largest sources of emissions from existing operations.

Here in Pennsylvania, the nation’s #2 natural gas producer, Governor Wolf is taking his own action. His framework to reduce methane and volatile organic compounds was released in January. The plan addresses well sites, compressor stations, pipelines and more, for both new and existing operations. The plan includes components already used by industry leaders or mandated in other states. Governor Tom Wolf ’s 4-point plan will reduce leaks at:

1) New gas well pads by developing a new general permit for exploration/production/processing, requiring “Best Available Technology” for equipment and processes, better record keeping, and quarterly monitoring inspections.

2) New compressor stations and processing facilities by revising its current general permit (GP-5), updating Best Available Technology requirements and requiring more stringent Leak Detection and Repair, among other requirements such as the use of cleaner running Tier 4 diesel engines.

3) At existing sources. The PA Department of Environmental Protection will develop regulations for the Environmental Quality Board to consider.

4) Along pipelines through best management practices, including Leak Detection and Repair. Currently, there is generally no methane monitoring, leak detection, or control of fugitives from transmission or distribution pipelines.

Stick with GASP to stay abreast of this issue, especially on our website or on Twitter @GASPPgh, as we expect more movement on this soon—and we’ll need you to weigh in in support of strong regulations that better protect our air quality and public health.

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Group Against Smog and Pollution