Friday, June 29, 2018

Shale Law in the Spotlight – Pennsylvania DEP Finalizes General Permits for Methane Emissions from Unconventional Natural Gas Production, Processing, and Transmission

Written by Chloe Marie – Research Fellow

On June 9, 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) published Final General Permits 5 and 5A, respectively for natural gas compression stations, processing plants and transmission stations (GP-5), and for unconventional natural gas well site operations and remote pigging stations (GP-5A). These general permits will become effective on August 8, 2018, and are part of the state Methane Reduction Strategy that has been implemented over the last two years by the administration of Governor Tom Wolf.

In January 2016, Governor Wolf launched the Methane Reduction Strategy designed to reduce methane emissions that are contributing to climate change. The Pennsylvania DEP initially proposed to review the existing GP-5 applicable to sources located at natural gas compressor stations and/or processing facilities and expand its applicability to cover sources located at natural gas transmission stations. DEP also proposed to create a new Air Quality General Permit for unconventional natural gas wells, known as GP-5A. Prior to the promulgation of GP-5A, methane emissions at unconventional well sites had been addressed through a Category No. 38 exemption. Leading up to the publication of the final version of the general permits, Pennsylvania DEP issued draft permits, and received public comment, on two prior occasions.

The Final GP-5 applies to thirteen operations or emissions sources located at natural gas compression stations, processing plants and transmissions stations, and the new final GP-5A applies to eleven sources located at unconventional natural gas well site operations and remote pigging stations. Exceptions are made for certain air contamination sources regulated by 25 Pa. Code Chapter 127, Subchapter D, E, F and G. A Technical Support Document, however, specifies that GP-5 is no longer just eligible for sources located at non-major facilities; now both GP-5 and GP-5A also are eligible for sources located at Title V facilities provided that they are adding a specific type of source to the facility.

Both general permits establish new requirements relating to Best Available Technology (BAT), air emissions standards, air quality source testing and monitoring, recordkeeping and reporting for all applicable air contamination sources. According to the Technical Support Document, the Pennsylvania DEP “determined that BAT for certain new sources is more stringent than the applicable NSPS limit for certain new sources.” Certain changes have been made to the ownership transfer procedure and now a new procedure is applicable to both GP-5 and GP-5A addressing transfer of ownership that does not modify any existing source, is not adding a new source, and is not subject to a new Single Source Determination; otherwise, permit applicants must file for an Authorization to Use the General Permit.

In addition, both general permits would apply only to emissions from all sources and associated air pollution control equipment provided that they do not exceed major source thresholds calculated on the basis of a rolling 12-month average. GP-5 and GP-5A holders also must conduct source testing at a frequency determined by federal and state requirements. As for recordkeeping and reporting requirements, permit holders are required to maintain records in electronic format on-site or near site for a five-year period and submit annual emissions inventory to the Pennsylvania DEP on March 1 of each year.   

The Pennsylvania DEP also amended the Air Quality Permit Exemptions document, the latest version of which was dated August 10, 2013, which provides for exemptions from plan approval and permitting requirements under 25 Pa. Code Chapter 125. The Pennsylvania DEP clarified that these exemptions only apply to new or modified sources constructed after August 8, 2018.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Agricultural Library, Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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