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Ohio EPA Making Pennsylvania Look Like New York?

cost of renewables - Tom ShepstoneTom Shepstone
Natural Gas NOW

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Recent actions by the Ohio EPA to both upgrade and streamline its natural gas regulations while Pennsylvania complicates them raises the specter of New York.

New York has always been difficult. I well recall many years working on some branch line railroad issues in the Empire State and confronting a whole floor of regulators in their Department of Transportation. I was used to dealing in Pennsylvania where three people did the work of 30+ New Yorkers. But, times have changed. Pennsylvania, under Tom Wolf, now seeks to emulate New York’s self-defeating style, especially when it comes to natural gas regulation. The Ohio EPA is putting our DEP to shame, managing to get plaudits from both environmentalists and natural gas company while we attempt to drown our biggest economic drivers in a sea of regulations. The Ohio EPA is making us, God forbid, look more like New York every day.

Ohio EPA

Ohio’s Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) just released new procedures for processing applications for oil and natural gas mid-stream compressor stations (air quality permits):

Previously, air emissions from these common pieces of equipment were subject to the longer case-by-case permit process. By contrast, applications for general permits follow a template. These general permits allow the Agency to ensure it protects the environment while freeing up valuable staff resources to work on other complex permit issues.

General permit applicants are required to demonstrate that the equipment qualifies for a general permit, and agree to meet pre-defined permit terms including installation and/or operating requirements, monitoring, record-keeping and reporting. All of these general permits require the installation of state-of-the-art equipment or methods to control air emissions that meet or exceed federal standards. Among the common pieces of equipment that now qualify for general permits:

  • natural gas-fired spark ignition compressor engines (five lean burn size choices, five rich burn choices);
  • diesel engines (two size choices);
  • dehydrators (two size choices);
  • flares (one open flare, two enclosed);
  • compressors;
  • equipment (pipes, valves, flanges, pumps, etc.) that has the potential to leak;
  • liquid storage tanks;
  • truck loading operations; and
  • pigging operations.

In recent years, Ohio has seen a large increase in the number of compressor stations due to the expansion of the oil & gas industry in eastern Ohio. General permits are an effective means to track and regulate air emissions and can be more efficient and timely for processing. Prior to establishing these general permits as an option, in 2016 Ohio EPA conducted an extensive draft and review process, accepting comments from interested parties and the public at large.

Makes a lot of common sense, doesn’t it? Even the Environmental Defense Fund agrees:

The policy requires companies to use existing technologies to check new equipment at compressor stations for leaks on a quarterly basis…

Reducing leaks not only reduces health and environmental impacts, it also reduces the amount of gas that companies waste— returning a valuable energy resource to the consumer…

“…requiring companies to find and fix leaky equipment is an affordable way to both reduce harmful pollution and grow the economy. Simply put, it’s the right thing to do,” said Andrew Williams, Senior State Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Manager, Environmental Defense Fund.

“This policy is vital as it comes during a period when many of our nation’s environmental protections are under attack. This action demonstrates the strength of Kasich’s leadership on a critical issue, and secures Ohio’s place among the growing list of red and blue states that are implementing common sense polices to ensure Americans maintain access to a healthy economy and a healthy environment.”

So, what is Pennsylvania doing? Well, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has proposed over-the-top changes to an existing General Permit 5 covering compressor stations and a brand new General Permit 5A to regulate methane emissions. Rather than follow the Ohio EPA example and use a very effective general permit process across the board to replace a multitude of time-consuming individual permits, our DEP is simply adding new layers of regulation to the one general permit process it does have. Ohio EPA is focusing, improving and streamlining while DEP is complicating, over-regulating and weighing down everyone involved.

Ohio EPA is also not doing something Pennsylvania DEP has been all too prone to do; proceed to meltdown every time the US EPA challenges it. Against all evidence of need and tons of evidence of declining methane emissions, US EPA bullied Pennsylvania’s DEP into pursuing methane emissions controls. DEP has, predictably, immediately immersed itself in a quagmire over the issue while Ohio EPA improved its controls over traditional pollutants such as PM, NOx, SO2, VOCs, CO and Lead, leaving methane to continue to decline rapidly on its own. Common sense, yet again.

Ohio EPA

US EPA data on methane emissions, 2011-2015

Consider, too, that Ohio’s General Permit Application to Install/Permit to Install & Operate a compressor station is but three pages in length. Here’s the background. Pennsylvania DEP has yet to unveil its new General Permit 5 Application form. Just the instructions currently open for public comment, though, are 45 pages in length whereas the current PA General Permit 5 for midstream operations has four pages of instructions and the existing permit application is 20 pages in length. There’s also the matter that, in Ohio, operators are able to commence site construction prior to receiving a General Permit; PA DEP proposal requires air quality permits to be issued prior to any earth disturbance or site preparation. Get more insight here.

We’re headed in the wrong direction in Pennsylvania…toward New York, when we should turn around and face the other direction, toward Ohio EPA.

Ohio EPA

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