Comments on Proposed Rulemaking in Pennsylvania – Control of VOC Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Sources (Regulation #7-544)

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Earthworks thanks the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for presenting this final draft of the proposed rulemaking for Control of VOC Emissions from Oil and Natural Gas Sources for the oil and gas sector and for the opportunity to submit public comment.

Please accept these comments on behalf of Earthworks, a national nonprofit organization committed to protecting communities and the environment from the impacts of mining and energy development while seeking sustainable solutions. For more than 25 years, we have fulfilled our mission by working with communities and grassroots groups to reform government policies, improve corporate practices, influence investment decisions, and encourage responsible materials sourcing and consumption.

Earthworks also supports, by reference here and as signatories, technical comments regarding this rulemaking submitted by the Clean Air Council.

In sum, we applaud the DEP’s decision to exceed the federal Control Technique Guidelines (CTGs) in some areas, and to incorporate many strong aspects of federal New Source Performance Standards (40 CFR Subpart OOOO and OOOOa), including quarterly leak detection and repair (LDAR). We support the strong repair schedule of five and fifteen days for the first and final repair attempts, respectively. We also commend the threshold of 500 parts per million (ppm) of methane or equivalent for defining a “leak” using a gas detector instrument.1

We are also pleased that the DEP took the important step of officially grounding the rule in the Pennsylvania Air Pollution Control Act, which affirms the Department’s mandate to protect the health and welfare of Pennsylvania residents. This step in effect connects the current rulemaking to the fact that oil and gas operations release significant levels of methane and ethane, which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone.2

We note that continued expansion of the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania challenges the state’s ability to maintain overall air quality standards, particularly in light of its inclusion in the Ozone Transport Region, a 13-state area across which the US Environmental Protection Agency requires measures to control pollutants that create ozone.3

As discussed below, Earthworks believes that key improvements to the proposed rule are still required to ensure meaningful emissions reductions and prevent further erosion of the climate and Pennsylvanians’ health. As recent studies confirm, the shale gas boom of the last decade has worsened the state’s air quality,4 while the industry’s emissions appear to be nearly 16 times higher than what operators report to the state.5

Importantly, none of the high-level improvements recommended in the following comments would expand the scope of the rule, but they are essential to ensuring that the rule lives up to its stated purpose of helping protect human health, the environment, and the climate.

For several years, DEP staff, the environmental community, and impacted residents have been engaged in this rulemaking process, as well as the associated adoption of general permits for pollution control at unconventional oil and gas operations. The additional changes detailed here are essential to reflect the public’s input and knowledge about pollution impacts due to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operations.

Earthworks’ two key recommendations are also being made by numerous other organizations and impacted residents statewide engaged in this rulemaking process: remove the exemption for low-producing operations and the step-down provision for LDAR requirements. Notably, these changes were also highlighted in a recent statement on Pennsylvania’s proposed rule by a group of 50 investors with nearly $4 trillion in assets.6


  1. Proposed rule, §129.122, Definitions, Acronyms, and EPA methods.
  2. Fiore, A. M., West, J.J., Horowitz, L.W. et al. “Characterizing the tropospheric ozone response to methane emission controls and the benefits to climate and air quality.” Journal of Geophysical Research, 2008.
  3. Regulations for Ozone Transport Regions are in CAA §184. See also EPA, Nonattainment and Ozone Transport Region (OTR) SIP Requirements,” https://www.epa.gov/ground-level-ozone-pollution/nonattainment-and-ozone-transport-region-otr-sip-requirements
  4. Mayfield, E.N., Cohon, J.L., Muller, N.Z. et al. “Cumulative environmental and employment impacts of the shale gas boom,” Nature Sustainability, 2019.
  5. Environmental Defense Fund, Explore Pennsylvania’s oil and gas pollution, https://www.edf.org/energy/explore-pennsylvanias-oil-and-gas-pollution
  6. Ceres, “50 investors with US$4 trillion in assets back strong methane emissions regulations in Pennsylvania,” July 9, 2020, https://www.ceres.org/news-center/press-releases/50-investors-us-4-trillion-assets-back-strong-methane-emissions