Updated: Sep 9, 2022
Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board this week folded in the face of a legal challenge from the gas drilling industry and its supporters in the General Assembly and shelved proposed regulations that would have limited emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds from conventional gas wells and associated equipment.
Regulations aimed at reducing such emissions from unconventional gas wells (re: fracked wells) will move forward.
Note this, however: As much as 80 percent of the gas industry’s methane emissions, and 76 percent of its VOC emissions come from conventional wells. Accordingly, rules to regulate the vast majority of the industry’s methane and VOC emissions will be delayed, and those emissions will remain unregulated, at least for the time being.
The industry’s challenge to the regulations is based on a 2016 Pennsylvania statute that requires all rulemakings “concerning conventional oil and gas wells that the Environmental Quality Board undertakes after [June 23, 2016 to] be undertaken separately and independently of unconventional wells or other subjects and shall include a regulatory analysis form submitted to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission that is restricted to the subject of conventional oil and gas wells.”
The partially-shelved regulations lumped both conventional and unconventional wells together. Why the EQB thought it could disregard the statute is, for now, an open question.
The bad news here extends beyond Pennsylvania’s continued failure to regulate these emissions. The regulations were intended to satisfy a “Control Techniques Guideline” for the oil and gas industry that EPA issued back in October 2016.
Procedurally, here’s what went down: Pennsylvania failed to meet the original Aug. 3, 2020 deadline to submit regulations to EPA to meet the “Control Techniques Guideline” requirements and was “put on the clock” by EPA effective Jan. 18, 2022, by a “Finding of Failure to Submit” published in the Federal Register on Dec. 21, 2021.
According to the “Finding of Failure to Submit,” the “offset sanction” will apply if Pennsylvania does not submit the required regulations within 18 months of the Finding’s effective date (which would be July 18, 2023). The “offset sanction” would increase the ratio at which certain new sources of VOC emissions in Pennsylvania would have to offset those emissions with purchased emission credits.
The Finding further states that if Pennsylvania still has not submitted the regulations six months after that (or, by Jan. 18, 2024), it faces the loss of federal highway funding.
Despite what EPA’s “Finding of Failure to Submit” states, the Post-Gazette reported that an EPA representative said Pennsylvania stands to lose federal highway dollars beginning Dec. 16 if the regulations are not submitted by then as required.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion on every level as to what is required with these regulations,” said GASP Senior Attorney John Baillie. “Let’s hope DEP and EPA get things straight so that the required emission limits are in place and no sanctions are ever applied.”