New Pennsylvania DEP regulations target coalbed methane




Companies that process and treat coalbed methane will have to account for air emissions starting next month.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection notified operators they would need to inventory their 2013 emissions and submit them no later than April 30, 2014.

Coalbed methane processors are the latest group in the oil and gas industry to be called on to disclose how much pollution they leak into the air. The inventory will include emissions of nitrous oxide, sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, benzene and toluene, among others.

The DEP, in an effort to get its arms around the air pollution produced by the state's growing oil and gas industry, started inventorying emissions from 2011 with shale gas wells and treatment plants that process shale gas. In 2012, it extended the requirement to processing plants that treat gas from conventional, shallow wells. At that point, some coalbed methane processors reported their emissions while others didn't. This year's notice is meant to close that gap.

Coalbed methane is gas present in the coal seam. It contains water and needs to be dehydrated and compressed before it can flow into a transmission pipeline.

The two largest coalbed methane producers and processors in the state are Consol Energy Inc. and Alpha Natural Resources. Both have underground coal mines in the region.

Consol officials said they already report the data to federal regulators and don't anticipate any issues with inventorying for the state.

Cecil-based Consol has 188 active coalbed methane wells in southwestern Pennsylvania. Its last such well was drilled in 2010.

Interest in coalbed methane has waned in recent years with the growth of the more profitable Marcellus Shale. Only one new permit for coalbed methane was issued since 2011.

Consol has worked to limit emissions from its coalbed methane processing plant in Fallowfield by trapping waste methane and using it to fuel an ultra-low-emission generator.

The system has been operating since 2012 and has the potential to avoid the equivalent of 6,586 metric tons of carbon dioxide.

According to state estimates, there are fewer than 20 processing plants that handle coalbed methane gas, a small fraction of the nearly 400 such facilities for shale and conventional gas wells.

The DEP's latest reporting directive applies to engines and other emission sources that treat the gas, not to the coalbed methane wells that produce it.

At least not yet.

But there already exist horizontal coalbed methane wells and there are plans to develop coalbed methane in the future by drilling horizontally and fracking. That would make them unconventional wells and trigger the emission reporting requirement.

Anya Litvak: alitvak@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1455

First Published March 11, 2014 5:15 AM

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