Emissions Permission – PA Dems Want To Clear The Air

Rep. Greg Vitali Seeks to Close Gas Industry Air Pollution Exemptions with House Bill 2113

Here’s an interesting fact: On March 1, 2012, the PA Department of Environmental Protection is required to submit a 2011 Air Emissions Inventory for “unconventional drilling” operations in Pennsylvania to the federal Environmental Protection Agency. They will be reporting on Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) emissions, Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), like benzene and toluene, and Particulate Matter from internal combustion engines which contributes to Ozone counts, among other things.

Since it’s not feasible for the DEP to test the air everywhere, reporting data is provided by gas industry operators, who derive their numbers from the specifications manuals of the equipment they use. This is where the drillers’ exemptions come into play.

Only data directly related to “unconventional drilling” operations is reported, leaving air emissions from compressor stations, processing facilities and high-pressure transmission pipelines off the inventory list…. Many “unconventional drillers” operating in Pennsylvania are exempt… Diesel engines less than 100-horsepower are exempt…. And on and on it goes. Suffice it to say that Pittsburgh now has some of the dirtiest air in the nation, and Southeastern Pennsylvania already exists in longstanding non-attainment of EPA’s air pollution thresholds.

Pennsylvania is not a rosy picture,” said George Jugovic, Senior Attorney for PennFuture, and former Southwest Regional Director of the PA Department of Environmental Protection when testifying at a House Democratic Policy Committee Hearing on February 27, 2012. The hearing was co-chaired by State Reps. Greg Vitali, D-166th District, Delaware County, and Tim Briggs, D-149th District, Montgomery County.

Jugovic pointed out that Act 13, the Unconventional Gas Well Impact Fee Act which Governor Corbett signed into law on February 14, 2012, eliminates funding for further air quality studies. “The public has a right to be concerned about this administration,” he added.

When Vitali asked Jugovic how they might strengthen House Bill 2113, which is aimed at narrowing and closing the misapplied exemptions in Act 13, Jugovic had three suggestions for the committee: 1) Increase air permitting fees to aid an understaffed and “overwhelmed” department; 2) Require air permits for well pads; 3) Collect and publish data for the public.

David Presley, Staff Attorney for The Clean Air Council testified next. Clean Air Council supports HB 2113 as it will address the significant cumulative impacts of air pollution from shale gas drilling activities in our state. Mr. Presley stated that DEP funding is at two-fifths the level it was under Governor Ridge, dropping from its highest point of $340 million to its current level around $130 million. Permits fees, he maintained, will not adequately fund a department so overwhelmed that it is now infamous for spending a mere 35 minutes approving the average gas drilling permit.

The Clean Air Council’s suggestions for tweaking Vitali’s bill? Be prescriptive in detailing the online reporting; make sure it is usable. “The devil is in the details,” Presley said.

Peter DeCarlo Assistant Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering at Drexel University, spoke next. He was careful to state that Drexel takes no position for or against developing shale gas as an energy resource. He did, however, point out the large-scale, particularly high level of “inherent uncertainty” associated with air emissions from shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania. He emphasized the need to verify the current “bottom-up” estimates. Without adequate data, the Ozone impacts and the ensuing damage to crops will be difficult to determine. “Science relies on data,” he said, “particularly in an area of active debate.

Next, Roberta Winters, Vice President of Issues and Action for the neo-partisan Pennsylvania League of Women Voters shook things up bit, referencing Lucille Ball, Niagara Falls and the value of making 180-degree turns. “Clean air is no laughing matter,” Winters insisted, affirming that “Good information is vital to good decision-making.

Her recommendation to strengthen the bill was to replace the language “Unconventional Gas Drilling” with “Oil and Gas Operations.”

Midway through Ms. Winters’ testimony, I am handed some slips of paper, to take one and pass along. It said:

“Ban Fracking in the Delware River Watershed” Petition:

Our legislators are not doing enough,” Winters concluded. “Yet again taxpayers will bear the brunt. Adequate financial resources are required.

Winters’ testimony was met with spontaneous applause, and I made a note to read the LWV’s Shale Study Guides, which can be found on their website under The Straight Scoop on Marcellus Shale Drilling.

What You Don’t See…
In addition to those who did testify, it’s worthwhile to note who did not. Michael Krancer, Secretary of the DEP declined the invitation, however he submitted written testimony, as did the Marcellus Shale Coalition and a long list of gas industry operators. Predictably, Secretary Krancer’s testimony concurs with that of Andrew Paterson, Executive Vice President of Technical Affairs of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Krancer insists Pennsylvania’s air is only improving, while Paterson extrapolated wildly from a single, limited DEP ambient air study to state categorically that gas activities “do not and will not negatively impact Pennsylvania’s air quality.

Of course, without legislation such as HB2113 to end gas industry emissions exemptions, and to ensure adequate funding for sampling, reporting, enforcement and study, we may never truly know.

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One Response to “Emissions Permission – PA Dems Want To Clear The Air”

  1. DEP Budget Cuts Don’t Add Up « Keep Tap Water Safe Says:

    […] the February 27, 2012 Democratic Policy Committee Meeting in Bryn Mawr, PA, the word “overwhelmed” was repeatedly used to describe the PA Department of […]

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