Marcellus gas compressor stations and processing plants, near to one another or even linked, are evaluated individually for pollution to ensure that oil and gas industry doesn’t have to implement emissions controls; this is the same in Alberta

Marcellus gas facilities, near to one another or even linked, are evaluated individually for pollution by Don Hopey, October 6, 2013, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
More than 450 natural gas compressor stations and processing plants have been built in Pennsylvania since 2008, when Marcellus Shale gas development kicked into another, higher gear. Collectively, the rapidly multiplying facilities emit tens of thousands of tons of pollutants a year. … Despite that emissions load, none of those Marcellus gas facilities are grouped together for permitting purposes by the state and labeled a “major source” of pollution — a Clean Air Act designation that could require more extensive, and expensive, emission controls. “There are a lot of shale gas sources right now with emissions just below the 100-ton-per-year ‘major source’ threshold,” said James Duffy, an attorney with the Clean Air Council. “They’re treated as minor sources. But put together, they are major sources and the people living next to them are receiving major doses of pollution. They should demand a remedy. And that would be emissions reductions befitting a major source.” …

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. Together those MarkWest facilities also can emit more than 200 tons per year of carbon monoxide and 180 tons per year of volatile organic compounds — pollutant emission totals well above the “major source” limit. But the CAC in September agreed to settle its state Environmental Hearing Board appeal because MarkWest completed a new pipeline in July to another processing facility in Majorsville, W.Va., just across the Pennsylvania state line. Because of the new pipeline — which links to the 10 compressor stations plus five more also built by MarkWest — Mr. Duffy said the CAC could no longer meet the adjacency part of the aggregation test. That three-part test requires that facilities be commonly owned, that they share the same industrial designation and that they be “adjacent.” The state’s focus for the adjacency part of the test is on geographical closeness, while the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to its long-standing practice, considers whether facilities are “fully interdependent.”

Lawrence Demase, an attorney representing MarkWest in the appeal, said the case is the latest of four hearing board appeals settled recently and turned on whether functional interdependency should be part of the aggregation test. “The problem with aggregation tests in the oil and gas industry is that the linkages are constantly changing as more wells and compressors are added in developing oil and gas plays,” Mr. Demase said. “The new facilities produce a state of flux in terms of functional interdependence, so making that argument is hard.”

Unsettled regulations
The council agreed to settle its appeal in exchange for little more than a DEP promise to make more transparent and informed permitting decisions about aggregation. That speaks to the unsettled condition of state and federal regulations that are supposed to protect air quality. … The EPA was critical of the Corbett administration’s new aggregation rules when they were adopted two years ago. Roy Seneca, an EPA spokesman, said this month the agency is still reviewing Pennsylvania’s compliance with the Clean Air Act as part of a potential enforcement action. Diana Esher, EPA Air Protection Division director for the Mid-Atlantic Region, said the EPA continues to look into the aggregation issue, as well as permitting, compliance and enforcement of natural gas development. …

“Aggregation is a legal issue that’s really beside the point. What’s important for a non-attainment area is how the air can be cleaned up as quickly as possible,” said Mr. Jugovic. “If we start backsliding on air quality because of all these new compressor stations and all the ones that are still to be built, that won’t be good. Someone needs to be monitoring these sites and the state monitoring system is not set up to do that, especially in rural areas.”

According to the EPA, even short-term exposure to nitrogen oxides can impair respiratory health, causing throat and lung inflammation and exacerbating asthma. It can also lead to higher concentrations of airborne particulate matter. Results of a one-year study started in July 2012 to measure air impacts from shale gas operations in Washington County are due soon, and could, according to the DEP’s website, help assess the cumulative impacts of emissions from shale gas processing and transmission. But early signs that emissions from Marcellus Shale operations are already degrading regional air quality may be showing up at the Allegheny County Health Department’s air quality monitor in South Fayette, said Jim Thompson, the county’s air quality program director. The monitor, on the southwestern edge of the county, is near the myriad shale gas facilities in Washington County, according to Mr. Thompson, and its measurements of ground-level ozone, formed from NOx emissions and a component of unhealthy smog, have been creeping up. [Emphasis added]

[Refer also to:

Extreme Levels of Benzene Floating Around Gas Wells and Compressor Stations; Fracking effects: A long-term study of drilling’s impact shows harmful health effects

Assessing the health risks of fracking, New York needs to be diligent where Pennsylvania has been careless

Valley Chokes On Air; Doctor Says Drilling Only Making It Worse ]

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