Prove your humanity

UPDATE: December 2, 2022

Pennsylvania’s rule limiting emissions at conventional oil and gas sites is in effect.

The Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice Friday that the regulation to prevent leaks of volatile organic compounds and methane is final and effective.

Environmental regulators approved the emergency version of the rule Wednesday. The governor certified the rule later that day.

The state needed to finish the rule before Dec. 16 to avoid a loss of federal highway money.

Original story

Environmental regulators on Wednesday approved an emergency measure to curb emissions at oil and gas sites.

The move should help the state avoid federal sanctions.

The Environmental Quality Board voted 16-2 to adopt the rule limiting emissions of volatile organic compounds and methane at existing conventional gas sites. The state is facing a Dec. 16 deadline to have the rule in place.

Gov. Tom Wolf signed a Certification of Need for the emergency regulation on Wednesday.

The rule will take effect upon publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin. DEP hopes that will happen in the Dec. 10 bulletin.

A previous, identical rule was held up by a disapproval vote in a state House committee. Under Pennsylvania law, regulations do not need approval by the legislature, but lawmakers can try to stop rules with a disapproval resolution. Voting to disapprove starts a period of 10 legislative days for the full chamber to vote. If both chambers vote to disapprove with a veto-proof majority, the regulation is stopped.

Nov. 30 is the legislature’s last session day, but the disapproval resolution will stay in play into the new session that starts in January.

The Department of Environmental Protection cited that delay as a reason the emergency measure is needed.

Glendon King, who represents House Republicans on the EQB, blamed DEP for moving slowly on the rule. The federal standards that dictate the rule were established in 2016.

“DEP’s lengthy process is not a proper reason, under the law, for an emergency certified regulation,” King said.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) said Republican legislative majorities have starved DEP for resources for years, then blamed the agency for not moving fast enough. He said the rule has been vetted and shouldn’t be delayed further.

“We’re going to lose $500 million in highway funds. That’s not an emergency? Well, it is in my book,” Vitali said.

The emergency rule covers conventional wells – usually shallower and owned by smaller companies than unconventional fracked wells – that meet certain production thresholds.

DEP estimates the regulation could reduce VOC emissions by as much as 9,204 tons per year. As a co-benefit, the agency says, the rule could lower emissions of the potent greenhouse gas methane by as much as 175,788 tons per year.

Industry groups for conventional drillers are calling for DEP to restart the regulatory process for conventional sites. The Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition and Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers say DEP chose a one-size-fits-all approach and did not consider appropriate alternatives for the industry.

A regulation limiting emissions at future well sites was finished in 2018.

The rule for fracked gas sites is set to publish in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on Dec. 10.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.