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DEP issues air quality rules for shale gas industry

By - Last modified: February 5, 2013 at 9:47 AM

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The state Department of Environmental Protection issued revised standards last week tightening air quality rules for the natural-gas industry, but industry and environmental groups differed on how significant the change is.

DEP's revisions affect permits for compressor stations that help pump gas from well pads into transmission pipelines. The new standards "impose emissions limits that are 75 (percent) to 90 percent stricter than current limits for the largest, most common types of engines used at compressor stations," the agency said in a statement.

Marcellus Shale Coalition CEO Kathryn Klaber said in a statement that the revised standards will help drillers "further leverage technologies that continue to reduce our industry's footprint."

A lawyer with the Philadelphia-based environmental group Clean Air Council, however, said DEP merely brought an outdated regulation up to the standards being used in current practice.

The standards in the old permit were based on what was achievable with the technology available when it was written, attorney Jay Duffey said. However, the federal Clean Air Act always requires companies to use the "best available technology," he said.

Thus, though on paper the standards will be much stricter, in practice "there really isn't going to be a change," Duffy said.

DEP also released for public comment "a proposed plan approval and operating permit exemption for air emission sources at well drilling sites."

At present, DEP classifies wells as minor air pollution sources and well operators are exempted from having to file air quality plans. The proposal would still allow that exemption, but to receive it, well operators would have to demonstrate that well emissions will stay significantly lower than federal air quality standards require.

DEP said it will accept comments on the proposal until March 19.

Write to the Editorial Department at editorial@cpbj.com

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