Environmental groups applaud Pennsylvania regulators for taking initial step to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations, but further action is needed

September 6, 2013
Contact: 
Lauren Whittenberg, 512-691-3437, lwhittenberg@edf.org
Joe Osborne 412-924-0604, joe@gasp-pgh.org
Paul King, 412-848-2040, pking@pecpa.org
Elaine LaBalme, 412 996-4112, labalme@pennfuture.org

(Harrisburg, PA – September 6, 2013) Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently proposed changes to an air quality exemption (Exemption 38) pertaining to oil and gas exploration, development, production facilities and associated equipment. Environmental Defense Fund, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Pennsylvania Environmental Council and PennFuture responded to the agency’s changes, expressing support for DEP’s initial steps to strengthen the state’s air quality permitting process, while also suggesting ways it could be improved. Related to oil and natural gas well sites and production activities, DEP’s revision of Exemption 38 signals the agency’s commitment to reduce air pollution from oil and gas operations.

“Revised Exemption 38 is a positive step toward reducing harmful emissions associated with oil and gas development in Pennsylvania, but the work doesn’t end here, much more is needed to protect the public health and welfare of state residents,” said Andrew Williams, EDF state legislative and regulatory affairs manager.  “EDF will continue working with local environmental organizations and DEP to push for greater controls of air emissions from natural gas and oil production in the Keystone state.”

New exemption criteria are an improvement over current state law. Previous criteria under category 38 had exempted most all oil and gas well sites and production facilities from any air quality permitting processes. Because state regulators narrowed the scope of exempted sources, facility operators must now implement controls to reduce harmful emissions below specified levels.

However, rigorous oversight and enforcement mechanisms, as well as annual DEP inspection requirements, are needed to ensure that field performance adheres to the state’s air quality standards. DEP must take further action on Exemption 38 by requiring facilities to provide periodic compliance certifications and verification that emission controls satisfy the exemption requirements. Without adequate reporting requirements, there is no assurance that individual sites operating without a permit are actually meeting the exemption requirements.

The groups’ called for such measures in a recent letter filed with the agency.  They are generally encouraged by DEP’s leadership on recent changes to general permits for natural gas processing plants and gas compressor stations that include, among other things, quarterly leak detection and repair monitoring but advocate for further action covering other activities and sources. 

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Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org), a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law, and innovative private-sector partnerships. Connect with us on Twitter, Facebook and on EDF’s Energy Exchange blog.

Group Against Smog and Pollution (GASP) is a Pittsburgh-based environmental nonprofit founded in 1969 and dedicated to improving air quality in southwestern Pennsylvania and surrounding regions. http://gasp-pgh.org

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) protects and restores the natural and built environments through innovation, collaboration, education and advocacy. PEC believes in the value of partnerships with the private sector, government, communities and individuals to improve the quality of life for all Pennsylvanians. www.pecpa.org  

PennFuture (www.pennfuture.org) is a statewide public interest membership organization, founded in 1998, with staff in Harrisburg, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and Wilkes-Barre. PennFuture’s activities include litigating cases before regulatory bodies and in local, state, and federal courts; advocating and advancing legislative action on a state and federal level; public education; and assisting citizens in public advocacy. Follow our legal and policy blogs at www.pennfuture.org