Gas rules target dangerous emissions

WARREN – New rules that spell out how and when oil and gas producers must test for emissions of dangerous gases are putting Ohio ahead of other states.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency rules that took effect Friday will require oil and gas producers to test valves, connections and other equipment on each new horizontal well for release of methane gases known as “fugitive emissions.” Leaks will require reporting and prompt repair, said Chris Abbruzzese, Ohio EPA deputy director for communications.

Under the Ohio policy, operators will be required to scan all the equipment at a well site using an infrared camera or other hydrocarbon detection device. A first attempt at fixing any found leaks must be made within five days. Operators will be required to submit detailed leak detection and repair reports to state regulators on an annual basis.

If low-level emissions of 2 percent or less are detected in the first year of quarterly testing, the rules allow testing to be limited to semi-annually in year two and then annually in subsequent years.

“It’s really about trying to encourage compliance by using that tiered approach,” Abbruzzese said Monday.

Ohio is only the third oil- and gas-producing state to roll out such a program, following recent leads established by Wyoming and Colorado, said the Environmental Defense Fund, a national nonprofit environmental group, applauded the effort.

Those in the oil and gas industry are supporting the measure, despite acknowledging additional associated costs, said Mike Chadsey, director of public relations for the Ohio Oil and Gas Association, an industry lobby group.

“This is good for the environment, good for the operator. There are some additional costs, but at the end of the day, when you show you don’t have any fugitive emissions, that’s a good thing,” Chadsey said.

Likewise, the Environmental Defense Fund applauded the effort.

“This unquestionably puts Ohio among the national leaders in tackling fugitive emissions,” said Matt Watson, national director of state programs for EDF’s natural gas work.

When left unaddressed, fugitive emissions can be a major source of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and methane, a highly potent greenhouse gas, EDF said in a prepared statement.

“We believe these modifications that we have made to the permit process provide a balanced and reasonable approach in maintaining the environment while working with the industry,” Abbruzzese said. “It will help provide leak detection earlier so less product is lost. The industry spends a lot of time and effort to get this product out of the ground, and we see this as a tool to help them capture it.”

The regulations will apply only to new nontraditional or horizontal wells. Wells in operation prior to Friday will be covered by existing regulations, Abbruzzese said.