Pennsylvania is in the final stages of approving a new rule that would crack down on methane emissions from older oil and gas infrastructure but exempt a vast number of low-producing wells.
The rule would be a significant change for producers in Pennsylvania, the second-largest U.S. natural gas producer. Many states impose methane limits on new wells: Pennsylvania, Colorado, and New Mexico are among the few that have restrictions on older wells, a major source of emissions relative to their production. Texas, the largest gas producer, has no methane limits at all.
Pennsylvania’s provision requires quarterly leak detection and repair at well sites that produce at least 15 barrels of oil a day. A technical advisory committee under the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is considering the rule before it moves forward to oversight committees.
The latest version includes some low-producing oil and gas wells that were initially exempted from regular leak inspections. The vast majority of which are still insulated from quarterly or annual leak checks, according to Matthew Garrington, a senior manager at the Environmental Defense Fund. “They’ve exempted upwards of 63,000 marginal wells responsible for producing half the methane pollution from the oil and gas industry in the state of Pennsylvania,” said Garrington.
Low-producing wells have become a flashpoint as state and federal regulators move forward on new requirements for finding and fixing methane leaks. Industry advocates argue that monthly or quarterly checks at low-producing sites would make those wells unprofitable, while environmental groups say exempting such wells means a major source of methane emissions remains untouched.
Minimizing the environmental impact caused by fugitive methane emissions from marginal wells, while controlling costs to ensure that operators are not forced out of production will require striking a delicate balance. The responsible conclusion is that these methane leaks need to be addressed, sooner rather than later.
Therefore, for producing wells that have significant fugitive emissions there are two options:
For many wells, intervention is a viable option that allows the well to continue producing for years to come, bolstering production of clean natural gas while eliminating leaking methane entirely. But if the well is nearing the end of production and leaking a significant amount of methane, decommissioning the well is the responsible thing to do.
Industry professionals are the best equipped to make these decisions as they understand the geology, design, and gas migration specific to each well and can weigh these factors to make the right decision. It is imperative that regulators do not overlook this and impose punitive measures on operators to make a statement, and instead focus on developing actionable solutions to this complex issue.
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As states finalize their plans to use federal funding, prioritizing which wells to address first and how to budget have arisen as major challenges. On paper plugging wells is straightforward, requiring a series of cement plugs to prevent methane and other compounds from escaping into the environment. Pennsylvania budgets around $33,000 to plug each well. However, the design, age, geology and a host of other factors impact plugging procedure, and in some cases it can cost millions of dollars to plug just one well....