PA DEP Clamps Down on Air Pollution Rules for Gas Drilling

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) which oversees oil and gas drilling in the state has issued new guidelines for evaluating air pollution sources from oil and gas operations. Specifically, the new guidelines clarify when operations should be considered a single source, and when operations will be considered separately, thereby facing stricter permit requirements. The move tightens controls over potential sources of air pollution from drilling and related operations.

The department’s new guidelines for "single source" or "air aggregation" decisions reflect a narrowing of the federal government’s common reading of the rule, which holds that sources of air pollution from oil and gas operations should be considered together when they are "interdependent," or linked by pipelines or other infrastructure.

DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said in a statement Wednesday that Pennsylvania will apply instead a "common-sense" reading of the rule, which requires that separate sources must meet three tests to be aggregated: belong to the same industrial grouping, be located on one or more contiguous or adjacent properties and be under the control of the same person.

"Over time, there was a tendency by some regulators to morph the meaning of ‘contiguous’ or ‘adjacent’ properties to mean only that operations on the properties be ‘interdependent,’" Krancer said, adding that "this view has been expressed in various federal Environmental Protection Agency recommendation letters or policy statements in recent years."

"That interpretation is not supported" by the language of the regulations and case law, he said.

The department’s new interpretation will treat oil and gas pollution sources a quarter mile or less apart to be "contiguous" or "adjacent" and sources farther apart will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Other states, including West Virginia and Texas, have adopted a similar policy, Krancer said.

The new guidelines go into effect immediately, but they are considered interim guidelines and will be open for public comment until Nov. 21.*

*Wilkes-Barre The Citizens’ Voice (Oct 13, 2011) – DEP updates air pollution guidelines for oil, gas sites