Pennsylvania DEP Invites Public Comment on Controversial Air General Permits for Oil and Gas Industry

Administrative Watch
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has announced the beginning of a public comment period regarding two draft general permits that, if finalized, would result in significant changes to the air permitting regime for oil and gas industry sources. According to a notice published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on February 4, 2017, DEP also proposes to revise the Air Quality Permit Exemptions document (DEP Doc. No. 275-2101-003) as it relates to oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities. The draft permits and proposed revisions to the exemption document present a number of timing, cost, and other implementation considerations for oil and gas operators.

The first draft permit is a revised version of the existing general plan approval/operating permit known as “GP-5” for compressor stations and processing facilities. The draft revised GP-5 would be available for natural gas compressor stations, processing plants, and, for the first time, transmission stations. It includes a number of conditions that would expand on existing obligations for midstream operators who are accustomed to dealing with GP-5. For example, the revised GP-5 includes specific requirements for the control of methane emissions from storage vessels and other sources.

The second draft permit, known as “GP-5A,” represents an even greater departure from the status quo, as it would require operators to obtain an air permit for “unconventional natural gas well site operations” and “remote pigging stations” for the first time. Production facilities are currently authorized pursuant to the air permitting exemption known as “Exemption 38” in DEP Doc. No. 275-2101-003. DEP treats oil and gas exploration, development, and production activities which fall under Exemption 38 as exempt from the obligation to obtain an air permit.

The Pennsylvania Bulletin notice indicates that DEP intends to divide Exemption 38 into two separate categories, Exemption 38a and Exemption 38b. Exemption 38a would be available only for conventional and unconventional natural gas well sites that were constructed or modified between August 10, 2013, and the effective date of the proposed amendment. Exemption 38b would be available only for conventional natural gas well sites constructed after the effective date of the proposed amendment.

The proposed changes present a critical timing issue for production facilities, in particular. Operators would be required to apply for and obtain approval from DEP to use GP5-A prior to beginning actual construction of a new or modified unconventional natural gas well site operation or remote pigging station. At a time when DEP is already challenged to approve GP-5 applications in a timely manner, the likely permitting delay associated with GP5-A may have a significant negative impact on day-to-day industry operations.

Public comments are due by March 22, 2017, unless DEP approves a request for an extension of the public comment period. Additional information regarding the comment process is available in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

If you have questions regarding the proposed changes to the Pennsylvania air permitting program and the potential impact on your business, please contact Michael H. Winek at  (412) 394-6538 or mwinek@babstcalland.com, or Meredith Odato Graham at (412) 773-8712 or mgraham@babstcalland.com.

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