Marcellus wells face air quality standards
BY ROBERT SWIFT
Times Shamrock Writer
Marcellus Shale well operators must limit nitrogen oxide emissions and develop leak repair programs under state air quality criteria established by the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The criteria limit nitrogen oxide emissions at wells to less than 100 pounds per hour, half a ton a day and 6.6 tons a year.
In addition, well operators can only conduct flaring to eliminate pollutants on a short-term or temporary basis.
The criteria published Friday came after public comment periods in the Pennsylvania Bulletin, the state legal journal.
Marcellus well operators will now be required to have a DEP-approved air quality plan which meets the new criteria or have practices more stringent than federal air quality rules for oil and gas sites that took effect last year, said DEP officials.
Oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania have had a blanket exemption from needing air quality plan approvals since 1996.
A Marcellus well is part of a web of infrastructure including pipelines, compressor stations and processing plants, according to the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council. Air pollution is emitted by way of engine and fugitive emissions.
The pollutants include nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds which are precursors to ozone, the council said, as well as carcinogenic, hazardous air pollutants and greenhouse gases in the form of carbon dioxide and methane.
Developing the air quality criteria is a good move, but DEP needs to do more to make sure the plans are enforced, said Air Council attorney Jay Duffy on Friday.
“We are concerned there is too much discretion,” he added.
DEP has determined that a Marcellus well is a pollution source of minor significance and therefore doesn’t need to obtain a full-scale air pollution permit, said Mr. Duffy.
But the agency is not considering the cumulative impact of emissions from the approximately 10,000 Marcellus wells in Pennsylvania, he added.
“Ten thousand wells is not a source of minor significance,” said Mr. Duffy.
Rep. Greg Vitali, D-166, Havertown, ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, sponsored legislation to require air pollution permits for most Marcellus wellhead drilling activity.
DEP started to tackle air quality issues in recent years with emissions studies and by requiring operators of Marcellus wells, drilling rigs and compressor stations to provide air emissions data. DEP announced a revised general permit for compressor stations and gas processing facilities that established lower emission thresholds earlier this year.