(The Center Square) – Thermal imagery captured last month in two gas wells deep in the Allegheny National Forest shows emissions escaping into the atmosphere from often overlooked sites, the environmental group responsible for the images.
Melissa Ostroff, Earthworks Pennsylvania field attorney and certified thermographer, said she compiled videos of two well pumps in Forest County – owned by Bull Run Resources and Catalyst Energy, respectively – which she says that the Ministry of Environmental Protection has not inspected for more than eight years. One of the sites still bears the sign of a company that no longer owns it, she said.
And these are just two of the âmany,â Ostroff added, where leaks have been detected – by sight, smell and imagery.
âIt was something that was really present,â she told The Center Square. âYou would walk through the forest smelling the pines, then turn the corner and smell the oil and gas fumes. “
Ostroff and Earthworks said thermal imaging illustrates the scale of Pennsylvania’s methane emissions problem.
The International Energy Agency described methane as the second largest contributor to climate change behind carbon. Earthworks said Pennsylvania is the nation’s second largest producer of methane gas, emitting more than one million tonnes of it each year.
DEP and the federal government regulate methane emissions from new unconventional wells, but a to reign pending statewide will soon expand the scope to include those built before 2013.
While environmental groups back the DEP’s intentions, many are concerned about a provision that exempts any source that produces less than 15 barrels of oil per day. Less than 1% of the state’s more than 71,000 conventional wells meet this threshold.
The rest, which environmental groups say contributes up to half of Pennsylvania’s methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, will remain unregulated.
Earthworks and others urged Governor Tom Wolf to to broaden the scope of the rule to capture this pollution, despite the decline of small well operators worried about the cost of compliance.
DEP estimates that the leak monitoring technology will cost $ 7,000 per well – an expensive expense for small producers. In documents, the agency said the exemption protects small businesses from the economic impact of additional regulations.
Ostroff said these small businesses often operate multiple wells and fixing the leaks, while not cheap, is not unreasonable.
âWe feel like it’s the cost of doing business,â she said. “They’re just left on the table, at least as the rule is currently written.”
In public comments On the pending rule, business and industry groups said the state should not pass regulations beyond what federal law requires.
While the Trump administration eased methane regulations for oil and gas operators last year, Congress recently voted in favor of restore 2016 rules limiting emissions from the sector. Stricter regulations including low production wells could be to come up of the Biden administration.
Center Square reached out to Catalyst Energy and Bull Run Resources for comment on Ostroff’s video, but received no response.
The DEP also did not respond to questions about the images. The agency, in documents, estimates that its pending rule will reduce methane emissions by more than 75,000 tonnes per year.