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New Permitting Options Finalized for the Pennsylvania Natural Gas Industry

Posted: July 9th, 2018

Authors: Christine C. 

This article is available as a podcast episode on ALL4’s Air Quality Insider

On June 9, 2018, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) issued the final versions of the modified General Plan Approval and/or General Operating Permit (GP)-5 for Natural Gas Compressor Stations, Processing Plants, and Transmission Stations and the new GP-5A for Unconventional Natural Gas Well Site Operations and Remote Pigging Stations with an effective date of August 8, 2018.  GP-5 has been reorganized for clarity and, in addition to expanding requirements for emissions sources included in the previous version of GP-5, includes new requirements for additional emissions sources (i.e., natural gas-fired combustion units, tanker truck load-out operations, pumps, enclosed flares and other emissions control devices, and pigging operations).  The new GP-5A, which follows the same general format as GP-5, includes requirements for the following emissions sources:

  • Glycol Dehydration Units
  • Stationary Natural Gas-Fired Spark Ignition Internal Combustion Engines
  • Reciprocating Compressors
  • Storage Vessels
  • Tanker Truck Load-Out Operations
  • Fugitive Emissions Components
  • Controllers
  • Pumps
  • Enclosed Flares and Other Emission Control Devices
  • Pigging Operations
  • Wellbore Liquids Unloading Operations

Reporting requirements for both GP-5 and GP-5A include the submittal of: (1) an annual Compliance Certification that is due no later than 60 days from the anniversary of the authorization to use the GP, and (2) an annual emissions inventory submitted via AES*Online or AES*XML due to PADEP by March 1st.

Concurrent with this action, PADEP also finalized revisions to the Air Quality Permit Exemption List that will impact the Pennsylvania natural gas industry.  The Exemption Category No. 38 that facilities are currently following is now re-numbered as Exemption Category No. 38(b) and only applies to unconventional natural gas well sites (i.e., sites that utilize extraction methods such as horizontal drilling and fracking to induce flow from geologic formations that would not normally achieve with conventional methods of drilling) constructed between August 10, 2013 and August 8, 2018.  All unconventional well sites installed or modified (i.e., new equipment installed) after the effective date (i.e., August 8, 2018) will need to be evaluated to determine applicability under new Exemption Category No. 38(c) or otherwise permitted with a GP-5A.  All existing unconventional wells that were “grandfathered in” as permit-exempt and were not subject to Exemption Category No. 38 because they were constructed before August 10, 2013 will remain permit-exempt pursuant to the new Exemption Category No. 38(a) unless they are modified, triggering Exemption Category No. 38(c)/GP-5A requirements.

Conventional well sites, sites that rely on conventional extraction methods using the natural pressure from the wells and pumping operations, are exempt from GP-5A requirements.  However, please note that 40 CFR Part 60, Subpart OOOOa makes no distinction between unconventional and conventional wells and new conventional wells are subject to Subpart OOOOa if hydraulic fracturing is used to “stimulate” the wells.  In this case, compliance with the federal regulations is still required regardless of the permit-exempt status of the site under the Pennsylvania regulations.

Several major new provisions in Exemption Category No. 38(c) include:

  • Methane emissions from each individual source at the facility are limited to 200 tons per year (tpy).
  • Leak detection and repair (LDAR) inspections are now required to be conducted semiannually, rather than annually.
  • There is no 180-day compliance demonstration requirement to PADEP (i.e., no reporting requirements), but the facility is required to keep applicable records for five years that demonstrate compliance with Exemption Category No. 38(c), including representative fractional analyses of the gas processed.

ALL4 recommends that new wells be evaluated on a case-by-case basis for applicability to Exemption Category No. 38(c) vs. GP-5A.  While drilling, fracking, and completion can occur regardless of a well’s exemption status (as temporary operations), on-going well pad equipment lists will need to be compiled and emissions estimates will need to be developed in advance ofsite development to determine whether the well pad can remain below the Exemption Category No. 38(c) thresholds.  If the thresholds will be exceeded, a GP-5A will be required before construction can begin.  Approval of a GP-5A by PADEP is anticipated to take at least 30 days following submittal, so if you need to prepare and submit a GP-5A application, make sure you plan accordingly to avoid delays.

In addition to the permitting updates, PADEP has also rolled out a new online permitting system.  PADEP’s GP-5/5A e-Permitting system within the DEPGreenport website has gone live and is set up to accept and track GP-5/5A permit applications.  A company’s records of GP-5/5A permits are ultimately controlled by the Electronic Filing Administrator (EFA). However, the EFA can delegate others to access the facility information and build applications on their behalf.  The EFA must first register an account within DEPGreenport and submit the Electronic Filing Administrator Registration Form before access to the system, and the ability to modify access for other users, is granted.  The GP-5/5A application contains various “modules” for each emissions source type (e.g., engines, reciprocating compressors) and the user can custom-build the application by selecting the appropriate module according to the types of sources at the well site.  The user can also include attachments, such as the PADEP General Information Form and supporting emissions, to the submission.  The application is filed online and the fee can be paid via credit card or an online Telecheck.  The e-Permitting system automatically tracks the application status, required revisions or rejections, and assigns permit numbers for approved applications.  This system is used for submitting GP-5/5A applications only; compliance activities (e.g., notifications and annual reporting) related to approved general permits are not managed under the GP-5/5A e-Permitting system.  As of June 9, 2018, PADEP is accepting GP-5/5A applications for any planned construction and/or operation that will take place after August 8, 2018.

ALL4 is here to help you determine your exemption status under Exemption Category No. 38(c), as well as to assist in developing and maintaining GP-5/5A applications and approvals.  If you have questions about how these actions affect your operations or what your next steps should be, please reach out to me at (610) 933-5246, extension 155, or at cchinofsky@all4inc.com.

This article also appears in the July 2018 edition of The PIOGA Press, published by Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association.


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