The state of Ohio on Friday tightened up state rules on air emissions from natural gas-oil drilling.
Ohio became just the third state in the United States to target what are called fugitive emissions or releases of methane gas from valves, connectors and other drilling equipment in its large-scale Utica shale operations.
Ohio is now requiring operators to perform regular inspections to pinpoint equipment leaks from horizontal wells and quickly repair them.
Such leaks are significant and contribute to air pollution with unhealthy ozone, add to global warming and represent lost or wasted energy that would mean more money for drillers.
Such leaks range from 1 to 8 percent of methane from individual wells, according to some studies.
Studies also show that horizontal shale wells may emit up to twice as much methane as vertical-only wells, due to well completion steps and refracturing or fracking.
The revised rules — in the development for more than a year — were released by the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and go into effect immediately, officials said.
"It’s a step in the right direction," said EPA spokesman Chris Abbruzzese. "We’re pleased and positive with the changes made.
The new rules strengthen and toughen existing rules although they do offer increased flexibility in some areas for drillers, said Mike Hopkins, the EPA’s assistant chief of air permitting.
The changes "update… and enhance existing rules" in Ohio’s general permit system, he said.
The drilling industry in Ohio is "pretty much on board with the changes," he said.
Said Mike Chadsey, a spokesman for the Ohio Oil & Gas Association: "Today OEPA released an updated general air permit specific to oil and
gas operations. This updated general air permit simply incorporates
new federal requirements. This general air permit provides clear
regulatory guidance for oil and gas operators looking to do business
Added Shawn Bennett of Energy in Depth-Ohio, a pro-drilling industry group: ""The updated Ohio EPA General Permit further illustrates Ohio's commitment to safely and responsibly develop our shale resources."
Ohio environmentalists were pleased by the action.
"This is serious medicine for a serious problem," said Jack Shaner of the Ohio Environmnetal Council. "This is a positive first step toward preventing fugitive air emissions, but it is only a first step."
Ohio should expand the permit system to include pipelines, compressor stations, and conventional wells, Shaner said.
The revised rules drew praise from one national environmental group: the Environmental Defense Fund.
"This is just the latest example of leadership from the Kasich administration in minimizing risk around oil and gas development. It reflects a fast-growing recognition that, if we’re going to develop this resource, we have to do it right. It’s essential we maintain an unblinking vigilance in driving down harmful emissions," said EDF President Fred Krupp in a statement.
"This is what leadership looks like," said Matt Watson, EDF’s national director of state programs for natural gas. "There are parts of the policy we would have written differently, but this unquestionably puts Ohio among the national leaders in tackling fugitive emissions."
Watson’s group had offered its input to Ohio while the revisions were being debated, along with many other stakeholders, he said.
The Ohio program comes on the heels of similar programs being rolled out in Colorado and Wyoming in recent months, he said.
Air emissions has been a priority issue in shale-drilling areas, Watson said.
The three states adopted state rules to cover emissions not covered under federal clean-air rules, he said.
"Not many states are doing what Ohio has done," he said. "It has fixed a big problem. It’s all the way good. But it’s not Nirvana on regulating emissions."
Under the Ohio policy, operators will be required to scan all the equipment at a well site on a quarterly basis using an infrared camera or other hydrocarbon detection devices.
A first attempt at fixing any found leaks must be made within five days, and operators will be required to submit detailed leak detection and repair reports to state regulators on an annual basis. Semi-annual or annual checks will be then be required in subsequent years, if there are few leaks.
If the leaks exceed 2 percent, the operators must comply quarterly.
Previously, operators had to conduct such checks once a year.
The inspections will cover "everything" at drill sites, Hopkins said. "Every flange, every pipe, every pump, anything that could leak. All parts. Everything," he said. "The new rules encourage them not to have leakers."
The leaks "will be found sooner and will be corrected sooner," Hopkins said.
The new rules also cover unpaved roadways and parking lots.
In another section, the EPA allows operators to add larger flares to burn off methane, but they must reduce the horsepower of engines to keep air emission levels from increasing.
Federal new source review air standards are also incorporated into the state permits, and the best available technologies requirements have also been revised.
Overall, the new rules require that operators control air emissions at least 95 percent.
The EPA said operators are most likely to use flares to burn off leaking methane at drill sites.
What the Ohio EPA officially released is a revised model general permit for well sites.
On Feb. 1, 2012, the agency issued a final general permit for air emissions associated with shale drilling, production and fracturing.
The state’s general permit covers a variety of emission sources found at most shale sites in the production phase. That includes internal combustion engines, turbine-powered generators, dehydration systems, storage tanks and flares.
The general permit system was used to speed up and simplify air permitting for drillers.
Eligible operators need not apply for the traditional individual source-specific air permit to install and operate.
The agency determined that most of the activities associated with drilling and completion phases of well development are generally exempt from air-permitting requirements due to the temporary nature of the operations, their limited duration, their exemption by rule or their minimal nature.
The state’s permit system incorporates restrictions on air emissions for certain drilling processes. It also contains emission limits. The permit fee is $2,300 and it takes about four weeks to get such permits from the EPA. They are good for 10 years. The permits must be acquired before wells can go into production.
Existing state permits will remain in effect.
For more information, go to www.epa.ohio.gov/dapc/genpermit/genpermits.aspx.
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.