Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf said Tuesday he hopes newly released standards will help lower ethane emissions in the state.
The greenhouse gas can leak or be released into the atmosphere during natural gas production, transportation and processing.
Wolf said methane has been identified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the second-most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States from human activities. Methane is the primary component of natural gas.
The Wolf administration said the industry reported more than 5 million McF (thousand cubic feet) – almost 115,000 tons – of methane emissions from unconventional wells and mid-stream operations in Pennsylvania in 2014.
During a Facebook town hall meeting, Wolf outlined a four-point plan that includes reducing leaks at new unconventional natural gas well pads, as well as at new compressor stations and processing facilities. The plan also focuses on reducing leaks at existing oil and natural gas facilities, and reducing emissions along production, gathering, transmission and distribution lines.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has been tasked with developing specific permitting guidelines and other standards to regulate each goal. Wolf said he believes the new regulations could streamline the permit process, moving it from the current 130 days down to 30 days.
The DEP has posted an explanation of the subject. Wolf said he does not think the regulation will be unfamiliar to oil and gas companies working in the state.
“These best-in-class measures that Pennsylvania will require are already used by industry-leading companies, required by federal regulations or are mandated by other states,” Wolf said.
The governor said the new standards will not only help the environment, but it will also help the companies, allowing them to reclaim product that is currently lost.
API-PA, a division of the oil and gas company American Petroleum Institute, warned in a press release that the new rules could be duplicative.
“Even as oil and natural gas production has risen dramatically, methane emissions have fallen, thanks to industry leadership and investment in new technologies," the statement said. "Additional regulations on methane could discourage hydraulic fracturing and the shale energy revolution that has helped America lead the world in reducing emissions. Onerous and unnecessary new regulations could have a chilling effect on the American energy renaissance, our economy and our incredible progress reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
API-PA said that the EPA shows methane emissions from hydraulically fractured natural gas wells are already down 79 percent since 2005. Total methane emissions from natural gas systems are down 11 percent since 2005.
“We need to make sure that we are exploiting our natural gas resource, but we need to do it wisely from an environmental point of view and I think we are doing that,” Wolf said.
The environmental watchdog group Penn Future quickly praised Wolf’s announcement in a written statement.
“We have been calling for action on harmful methane pollution for some time now and are grateful to Gov. Wolf for his bold leadership," the statement read. "This is a significant step to protect Pennsylvanians from the impacts of oil and gas drilling.”
Penn Future called methane emissions a public health risk, an economic drag and an environmental risk that "could put us into climate disaster territory."
Wolf said his administration is trying to build on the state’s strength as a great place to enjoy nature and a great place to work.
The DEP will host a webinar to further explain the regulations at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Jan. 20.