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Monday, October 7, 2013

PA must be smarter about regulating natgas compressor stations

While burning natural gas for electricity generation can provide substantial reductions in air pollution when compared to coal, the transmission of gas to market is a growing source of local air pollution in Pennsylvania - a situation that is both needless and avoidable.

This must-read article by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Don Hopey discusses how the 450 (and growing) natural gas compressor stations in the Keystone State are regulated individually - rather than aggregated and regulated collectively - in a way that avoids subjecting them to more stringent Federal air emission requirements.  That results, according to the article, is situations like this:
Two years ago, the Clean Air Council appealed a state decision to grant individual permits to a Marcellus Shale gas production facility and 10 gas compressor stations linked to it by pipelines, all in Washington County. Collectively those 11 facilities, all owned by MarkWest Liberty Midstream LLC, can emit more than 900 tons of nitrogen oxides a year -- or more than three times the amount emitted by U.S. Steel's Edgar Thomson steel mill in Braddock, which is designated a major source.
This wasn't always the case, as the article notes:
In Pennsylvania, the DEP adopted an aggregation policy in December 2010, during the Rendell administration, that focused on interdependency when considering shale gas facilities' emissions. But by October 2011 the Corbett administration had put in place a new policy that de-emphasized dependency in favor of geographic proximity.
Exposing local residents to these major sources of smog-inducing air pollution is a threat to public health and the industry's social license to operate.  The air quality benefits of a switch from coal to gas should not be negated by short-sighted policy about gas transmission.  A smart aggregation policy that recognizes the obvious is the first step that Pennsylvania must re-take.  Then it must require Best Available Control Technology on all natgas compression equipment.

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