Tuesday, October 25, 2011

New natural gas regulation controversy flares up in PA

Rarely does a day go by without new controversy over how the administration of Pennsylvania's Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is regulating the natural gas industry.

The latest flareup centers on a new PADEP policy that would treat most facilities as individual air pollution sources. 

That would minimize the  application of federal emissions control programs and cause a deterioration of the state's air quality, according to several environmental organizations.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Dan Hopey reported yesterday that: 
The recently announced policy from the state Department of Environmental Protection policy addresses how the department will determine if emissions from two or more stationary air pollution sources -- facilities such as gas wells, pipelines, compressor stations, storage tanks and refineries -- should be "aggregated" and regulated as a single source.

The new policy uses the physical distance between the shale gas facilities as a major qualifying criteria for determining if they should be considered a single, major source of air pollutants that would be required to meet stricter emissions standards, instead of individual emissions sources subject to lesser pollution monitoring and controls.

Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said the change is simply a clarification of "a very complex and long-standing body of guidance" from the federal government.

"This is not a new policy," she said. "You still have to get a permit. You still have to comply with all the rules. But how big are we going to define the source?

"Predictability and clarity in an otherwise uncertain area of the law is in everyone's best interest. Transparency in the process benefits everybody involved." 
Environmental groups see it differently.

"The department is sticking its head in the sand if it looks at these shale gas facilities individually instead of as a group, because the emissions from that drilling group have a cumulative impact," said Thomas Au, conservation chair of the Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter and co-chair of its oil and gas committee.

The DEP should be looking at "clusters of related drilling facilities" for purposes of controlling emissions, Mr. Au said. That approach was part of the emissions aggregation policy adopted by the Rendell administration in December 2010.
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