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PADEP Issues Emergency Rulemaking for Volatile Organic Compound Emissions in Conventional Oil and Gas Operations

December 13, 2022

by Terry Bossert, Errin T. McCaulley, Jr., Sarah Hibbert, Scott A. Gould, and Brigid Khuri

On December 2, 2022, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) announced that its recent emergency rulemaking limiting volatile organic compound (“VOC”) emissions from conventional oil and gas sources had become final and effective as of that date (“VOC Rulemaking”). The VOC Rulemaking was subsequently published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin on December 10, 2022. Under the federal Clean Air Act (“CAA”), Pennsylvania has until December 16 to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (“EPA”) a plan implementing the VOC Rulemaking, including regulations covering VOC emissions for all required oil and gas sources.

The VOC Rulemaking adopts reasonably available control technology (“RACT”) requirements and RACT emission limitations, and applies to owners or operators of the following conventional oil and gas VOC emissions sources:

  1. Storage vessels at: a conventional well site; a gathering and boosting station; a natural gas processing plant; or the natural gas transmission or storage segment;
  2. Natural gas-driven continuous bleed pneumatic controllers;
  3. Natural gas-driven diaphragm pumps;
  4. Reciprocating compressors and centrifugal compressors; and
  5. Fugitive emissions components.

The EPA defines RACT as “the lowest emission limitation that a particular source is capable of meeting by the application of control technology that is reasonably available considering technological and economic feasibility.”  See 44 Fed. Reg. 53761, 53762 (Sept. 17, 1979).  The VOC Rulemaking establishes VOC emission limitations and other RACT requirements consistent with the EPA’s recommendations in its Control Techniques Guidelines for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry.  Additionally, the VOC Rulemaking establishes more stringent RACT requirements in three cases:

  1. A 2.7 TPY VOC emission threshold for storage vessels;
  2. Requirements for conventional owners or operators to implement reciprocating compressor rod packing replacements on reciprocating compressors located at conventional well sites; and
  3. Requirements for affected conventional owners or operators to implement instrument-based leak detection and repair (“LDAR”) inspections at conventional well sites with an average production ≥ than 15 barrels of oil equivalent (“BOE”) per day.

Compliance with the VOC Rulemaking will ensure compliance with §§ 129.91—129.95 (stationary sources of NOx and VOCs) or §§ 129.96—129.100 (additional RACT requirements for major sources of NOx and VOCs).

Following DEP’s announcement, on December 5, 2022, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association (“PIOGA”), Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition (“PGCC”), and Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers Association (“PIPP”) filed a complaint against DEP in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania seeking review of the VOC Rulemaking.  See Petition for Review in the Nature of a Complaint for Declaratory Relief, Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association et al. v. Com. of Pa. et al, No. 574 MD 2022 (Cmwlth. Ct. Dec. 5, 2022).  The plaintiffs assert that DEP promulgated the VOC Rulemaking unlawfully by: (1) failing to comply with the notice and comment provisions of the Commonwealth Documents Law; and (2) violating Section 7(b) of Act 52 of 2016, which imposes requirements for rulemakings applicable to the conventional oil and natural gas industry.  If the plaintiffs are ultimately successful, the VOC Rulemaking will be declared null and void, and DEP will be required to comply with Section 7(b) in order to implement or enforce any future VOC emission regulations.

Any conventional oil or gas producers that may be affected by this Rulemaking are encouraged to reach out to the McNees Environmental Law team for compliance assistance and advice on possible steps forward.

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