DEP Puts Gas Drillers Under Watchful Eye

Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
22 February 2014
By Tony LaRussa, Staff Reporter

License to drill - These permits were issued by the state for gas well drilling between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30:
• Allegheny 4
• Armstrong 29
• Beaver 17
• Butler 46
• Cambria 1
• Fayette 8
• Greene 62
• Lawrence 3
• Mercer 9
• Washington 162
• Westmoreland 14
Source: Pennsylvania DEP
In early August, state environmental regulators ended the long-standing practice of allowing Marcellus shale gas drillers to operate without a plan as to how they would control air pollution at well sites.

But rather than just issue rules for how to limit pollution, the state Department of Environmental Protection gave drillers a choice — submit an air-quality plan for approval, or use pollution control systems that keep emissions below standards set by the federal government.

Between Aug. 1 and Nov. 30, none of the 979 drilling applications issued across the state — including 355 in the Pittsburgh area — submitted air-quality plans to the DEP, said Amanda Witman, a spokeswoman for the state's environmental agency.

“We consider this a win-win because it helps keep the air clean by requiring drillers to keep pollution emissions lower than the federal guidelines while at the same time eliminating some of the time and effort drillers have to spend preparing air-quality plans as well the time it takes for us to review and process them,” Witman said.

The change giving drillers the option ends the practice of granting blanket exemptions, which had been done since 1996, according to the DEP.

Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, said he is “not surprised” that drillers are opting to follow the Environmental Protection Agency guidelines set in April 2012.

“The industry recognizes that the new federal guidelines represent a robust effort to reduce air pollution,” Creighton said. “The folks who work in this industry expect to be around a long time, so there is an incentive for them to get it right the first time when it comes to safeguarding the environment, a spokesman for Range Resources, said the company began capturing emissions at well sites in 2011.

“ The materials contained in those emissions are exactly what we are in the business of selling,” he said. “So not only does it make good business sense not to release them, it benefits the environment and safety.”

While environmentalists support the state's effort to control air pollution at well sites by enacting rules for issuing drilling permits, they are calling for better monitoring.

“We always like to see stronger (air pollution) emission controls put in place, but one of our biggest concerns is the cumulative impact these well-sites can have,” said Lauren Burge, a staff attorney for the Group Against Smog and Pollution, or GASP.

“Even though the amount of air pollution released at an individual well might be very small, when you have a lot of them operating in an area, the total amount emitted can be a concern,” she said. “We'd like to see more done to determine what that cumulative impact is, as well as the potential health effects.”

GASP and the Environmental Defense Fund are calling on the DEP to make sure drillers verify that the air-pollution controls they use reduce emissions.

Lisa Kasianowitz of the state DEP said drillers are in fact required to demonstrate their compliance with EPA standards within 180 days after they start drilling.

“We have started both short- and long-term studies in the state, in which air testing devices at well sites regularly take readings that will be analyzed to determine whether additional regulations are needed to limit air pollution,” Kasianowitz said.

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Tony LaRussa is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

He can be reached at 412-320-7987 or