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2017-09-15 / News

DEP releases report on natural gas industry emissions

BY SPENCER MYERS
Editor

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been collecting data on emissions from well sites and other natural gas facilities since 2011.

This year saw 10,287 well sites and 534 midstream facilities reporting in.

The inventory tracks emissions from unconventional natural gas production and processing operations as well as compressor stations and midstream projects that receive gas from conventional and unconventional well sites and coal gas.

The full inventory of sources tracked by the DEP includes: pigging stations; compressor stations; dehydration units; drill rigs; fugitive emission sources, such as connectors, flanges, pump lines, pump seals and valves; heaters; pneumatic controllers and pumps; stationary engines; tanks, pressurized vessels and impoundments; venting and blowdown systems; well heads and well completions.

The recently released 2015 inventory indicates that emissions of methane and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from unconventional well sites and mid-stream reporting facilities increased from 2014 emission levels, while other pollutants including nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM2.5) all saw decreases from 2014 emission levels.

“The inventory presents a mixed picture of emissions from the unconventional natural gas industry” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell in a release. “Certain pollutants are decreasing as best practices are implemented more widely through the industry, while others - including methane, a potent greenhouse gas - continue to increase, underscoring the need to do more to detect and fix leaks in order to reduce emissions.”

Production from unconventional gas wells increased significantly, from 4.1 trillion cubic feet of gas in 2014 to 4.6 trillion cubic feet in 2015.

“While methane emissions increased in 2015, other harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM2.5) all saw decreases from 2014 emission levels,” said McDonnell in a release.

The average emission per facility has remained level, making the increased total tons of methane a result of increased production and distribution.

According to a release form the DEP, “the average methane reported from each mid- stream compressor station decreased from 106.9 tons in 2012 to 97.5 tons in 2015. The average emission per well site was 8.3 tons in 2012 and 5.8 tons in 2015.”

In an effort to reduce future methane emissions, DEP proposed changes to the general permits for new well sites and compressor stations. More than 10,000 comments were received during the proposals’ comment period, which closed on June 5. According to the DEP, the proposed changes include increased leak detection and repair frequency, a specific methane emission threshold for the installation of additional control and added requirements for additional sources.

The inventory can be further broken down by company, source and county.

For context regarding the following numbers on carbon and methane emissions, Pennsylvania is estimated by the U.S. Energy Information Administration to have emitted 245 million metric tons of CO2 in 2014, or 4.5 percent of the country’s total emissions. Countrywide, America emitted 6.8 billion metric tons in 2014. If the country were to still try to meet the goals set by the 2015 Paris Climate Accord, America would need to reduce these emissions to under 5 billion by 2025. According to the data provided, eliminating all of the natural gas gathering and distribution infrastructure in Pennsylvania would stop approximately 6.7 million tons of carbon dioxide and 112,128 tons of methane, both of which heavily exacerbate climate change.

According to the inventory of 2015 emissions, Markwest, which consists of both Markwest Liberty Bluestone and Markwest Liberty Midstream and Resources, leads the companies in total carbon emissions with 732,328 metric tons. EQT, which in the inventory consists of six separate midstream and well service companies, came in second with 623,200. Third is Williams Company with 459,821 metric tons. Much of the carbon dioxide from these companies comes from operating compressor stations and other processing facilities that require heavy machine power, such as heaters and engines, to remain operational.

The companies stacked up differently when it came to methane emissions with Williams coming in at number one with 10,768 metric tons, SWEPI Lp with 8,372 and Repsol at 6,118. The majority of these emissions came from blowdown vents and pumps letting loose excess gas which is done for repairs and maintenance.

Breaking down the emissions by county gives the top spot for emissions to Susquehanna County, which saw 1,147,019 metric tons of CO2 and 28,422 metric tons of methane released into its air. For CO2, Washington County came in second with 969,693 metric tons and Greene County came in third with 926,817. For methane Lycoming County came in second with 16,316 metric tons and Bradford County came in third with 10,269.

Breaking the data down by number of facilities per county roughly matches the emissions in each county with Susquehanna, Bradford, Greene, Washington and Lycoming occupying the five top spots.

The same correlation does not track when comparing companies’ number of facilities to their emissions. Markwest and Williams only report 22 and 21 facilities respectively, despite emitting the most CO2 and methane. Repsol and EQT recorded 492 and 573 facilities respectively.

This curiosity is most likely due to the nature of the companies, with Markwest and Williams mostly managing pipelines and midstream operations and Repsol and EQT working in drilling and upstream. It takes less compressor stations to keep a pipeline operational than it takes wells to get the gas out of the ground. This difference between facilities and emissions does however shine a spotlight on cost of emissions created by pipeline infrastructure. .

For a full list of the emissions beyond methane and CO2, go to http://www.dep. pa. gov/ Business/ Air/ BAQ/ BusinessTopics/ Emission/ Pages/ Marcellus-Inventory.aspx

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