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EQB May Adopt Rule to Limit VOCs Related to Shale Development

Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is set to consider new rules concerning volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from oil and natural gas sources during its December 17, 2019 meeting. The proposed regulations would affect emissions from existing oil and gas operations across the state by setting VOC emissions standards in line with federal guidelines.

The EQB is an eclectic board that adopts the Department of Environmental Protection’s rules and regulations. The twenty-member board is chaired by the Secretary of the Environmental Protection, and its membership includes actors from eleven stage agencies (Departments of Environmental Protection Agriculture, Health, Community and Economic Development, Labor and Industry, and Transportation as well as the Public Utility Commission, the Fish and Boat Commission, the Game Commission, the Historical and Museum Commission, and the Governor's Office of Policy), five members of the state’s Citizens Advisory Council, and four members from the state Senate and House of Representatives.

This proposed regulation would adopt reasonably available control technology (RACT) requirements and limitations for oil and gas sources of VOC emissions that were in existence before the adoption of this rule as well as new development from adoption forward. RACT is defined as the lowest emission limitation that a particular source is capable of meeting with economically feasible, reasonably available emissions control technology.

VOC emissions are a serious public health issue. VOCs are precursors to the formation of ground-level ozone, which is a public health and welfare hazard because it is a respiratory irritant. According to the Environmental Protection Administration (EPA), inhaling ground level ozone can trigger a variety of health problems including chest pain, coughing, throat irritation, and airway inflammation. It also can reduce lung function, harm lung tissue, and further irritate those with issues like asthma and bronchitis. People most at risk from breathing air containing ozone include people with asthma, children, and older adults.

This proposed rule would apply to owners and operators of the following VOC sources: storage vessels (except those used for natural gas distribution), natural gas-driven pneumatic controllers, natural gas-driven diaphragm pumps, centrifugal compressors and reciprocating compressors, and fugitive emission components. The proposed rule adopts a 15 barrel of oil equivalent per day production threshold, at which wells and and other facilities become beholden to the new law.

According to the proposed rule’s Executive Summary, the DEP estimates there are approximately 435 midstream compressor stations, 120 transmission compressor stations, and 10 natural gas processing facilities whose owners and operators may be subject to the newly proposed VOC emission reduction measures and reporting and record-keeping requirements. Additionally, according to production data from 2017, 8,403 unconventional natural gas wells as well as 303 of the 71,229 conventional natural gas wells would be subject to the rule due to the 15-barrel equivalent threshold.

If the rule is adopted by the board, the DEP is likely to begin a 60-day public comment period on the rule as well as host at least three public hearings on the issue.

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