PA General Air Permits for Natural Gas Operations – A Future of More Delays

Back in January of this year I posted an article on this site that reviewed the PA DEP’s plans for initiating a new general air permit to address methane emissions from natural gas facilities.  This proposal called for an elimination of the existing Exemption 38 for future facilities and replacing it with a new GP-5A.  DEP’s proposal also revised the existing GP-5 for natural gas compression and processing facilities. Now it is time to get a bit more specific since new and revised general permit requirement were published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on February 4, 2017 and the comment period ends on June 5, 2017. 

While my earlier post discussed the need for a new permit to address methane emissions; this post will briefly address the industry’s concerns raised by the details of the DEP’s published proposal. As mentioned in my previous post, Exemption 38 was a post construction approval, i.e. demonstrate compliance with specified provisions and the exemption was essentially automatic. The proposed GP-5 and 5A will be pre-construction approvals.  Operators will have to submit a completed application that details, at the very least, equipment design data, manufacturing data and equipment serial numbers, detailed projected emission calculations and specific site plans.  In addition to covering well drilling, hydraulic fracturing and well completion operations, these general permits, as proposed, will be required for all other aspects of upstream and midstream operations.  This includes combustion units, compressors, storage vessels, dehydration units, pumps, truck load-outs, fugitive emissions and pigging operations.  These latter three operations were previously exempted as were most other temporary sources associated with well drilling and completions.

The primary difficulty operators see with the proposals rests with obtaining and submitting all the equipment specs and serial numbers in advance of actual construction, as well as determining “projected” emissions from all of the listed units.  For new gas wells most of this information can’t be obtained until the actual production rates from the wells are determined, so operators will be forced to “guess” what units they might need for inclusion in the GP-5A application.  Any subsequent changes over what is listed in the original application will require the submission and approval of a permit revision.  Additionally, the requirement to delineate in advance what temporary sources will be used at a well site, as well as their projected emissions, will lead to further inaccuracies and guesswork.  Based on DEP performance with processing current GP-5 applications, operators expect DEP will take 12 to 18 months to process these new and revised GP-5 and GP-5A applications – in the meantime no work at the sites can be initiated.

Gary Slagel, who most recently retired as the Senior Advisor of Environmental Affairs for CONSOL Energy, has joined the firm as a Government Affairs Specialist. Mr. Slagel is an engineering graduate from the University of Dayton and spent 35 years with CONSOL and CNX Gas in several capacities including Director of Environmental Regulatory Affairs and later Director of Government Affairs working on both coal and natural gas issues.
 
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