Pennsylvania nears approval of new methane rules for oil and gas wells

12/9/2021

(Bloomberg) --Pennsylvania is in the final stages of approving a new rule that would crack down on methane emissions from older oil and gas infrastructure, while exempting a vast number of low-producing wells.

The rule would be a significant change for producers in the state, which is the second-largest natural gas producer in the U.S., responsible for about one-fifth of the country’s gas output in 2020, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. While many states have imposed methane limits on new wells, Pennsylvania is joining only a handful, including Colorado and New Mexico, that have restrictions on older wells. Those can be a major source of emissions relative to their production. Texas, the largest gas producer, has no methane limits at all.

The provision under consideration in Pennsylvania requires quarterly leak detection and repair at well sites that produce the equivalent of at least 15 barrels of oil a day. A technical advisory committee under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday met to consider the rule, which is expected to move forward to additional oversight committees.

The latest version includes some low-producing oil and gas wells that were exempted from regular leak inspections in an initial proposal. But the vast majority of those sites are still insulated from quarterly or annual leak checks, according to Matthew Garrington, a senior manager at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“Among Democratic governors that have adopted oil and gas air methane regulations, Pennsylvania has put forward the worst rule in the nation,” Garrington said. “They’ve exempted upwards of 63,000 marginal wells responsible for producing half the methane pollution from the oil and gas industry in the state of Pennsylvania.”

The exemption for low-producing wells benefits oil and gas producers like Diversified Energy Co., which has built an empire of older sites across Appalachia, including in Pennsylvania, where it’s by far the largest well owner. Earlier this year, Bloomberg Green reporters visited 44 sites owned by Diversified, 18 of which were in Pennsylvania, and found that most were emitting methane.

Low-producing wells have become a flashpoint as state and federal regulators move forward on new requirements for finding and fixing methane leaks. Industry advocates argue that monthly or quarterly checks at low-producing sites would make those wells unprofitable. Environmental groups say exempting such wells means a large source of methane emissions go untouched.

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