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Pennsylvania pushing to regulate gas sector methane emissions

Pennsylvania is moving forward to regulate methane emissions from the state's shale gas industry, according to a Dec. 17 news release from Gov. Tom Wolf's office.

Regulations under consideration would require oil and gas operators that produce at least a certain amount to use leak detection and repair equipment to both find and fix leaks, among other requirements. The regulations would also reduce emissions of volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, from well sites, pipelines, and other infrastructure, the governor's release said.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection on Dec. 17 presented a draft to the Environmental Quality Board, according to a news release from advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund, or EDF.

The rules the state is considering could curb VOC emissions by more than 4,400 tons per year and methane emissions by more than 75,000 annually, according to the governor's office.

"The new regulations will help identify and prevent leaks from existing wells and infrastructure, while protecting the environment, reducing climate change, and helping businesses reduce the waste of a valuable product," Wolf said in a statement.

The EDF recommended that the regulation go further than what the state department has proposed, advocating that the state remove exemptions for low-producing wells and a provision that allows operators to forego inspections just because previous inspections found no significant leaks.

Pennsylvania plans to open a public comment period on the proposed regulations in 2020, the governor's release said.

Methane regulation has gotten the support of several companies, such as oil and gas majors Exxon Mobil Corp. and Royal Dutch Shell PLC. Smaller producers, however, have said methane regulations could lead to production shut-ins because the cost of bringing some of their low-yielding wells into compliance outweighs the benefits.

The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is part of Wolf's plans for Pennsylvania's participation in the U.S. Climate Alliance. Pennsylvania is the second-largest natural gas-producing state in the U.S., according to the EDF.