Monday, October 17, 2011

Nox Threatens Marcellus Boom

There is one issue that could stall the Marcellus boom in Pennsylvania.  It is Nox, a pollutant that causes smog.

Last week the Nox alarm sounded once more and more loudly than ever, when George Jugovic testified to the House Democratic Policy Committee that air permits allowing annual emissions of 13,000 tons of Nox from gas drilling had been issued for just Southwest Pennsylvania. Jugovic is the former regional director of the Pittsburgh area Department of Environmental Protection office.

Thirteen thousand tons of Nox is a lot, a bit less than 10% of statewide Nox emissions from all sources. Nox in gas production comes mainly from reciprocating engines running on diesel with poor pollution controls. Regulators and industry must control Nox emissions from gas drilling by using the cleanest technologies and fuels, or the gas industry could collide with the Clean Air Act.

Gas drilling Nox emissions caused serious smog in parts of Wyoming and could do so in Pennsylvania if they are not limited.

The significant new Nox emissions from gas production enter the air shed just as total Nox emissions are declining sharply. Coal plants are installing pollution controls for Nox and other pollutants or being replaced by cleaner natural gas plants.

While declining total Nox emissions creates more time to resolve the gas drilling Nox issue, time to act proactively is short. The gas drilling Nox issue will lead to major litigation and environmental risk that could even endanger the issuance of future air permits needed for gas production unless real action is taken soon. That is the meaning of Jugovic's testimony.


  1. Mr Hanger,

    Could you offer any perspective as to what percentage of that 13,000 tons of permitted NOx is actually being realized? One would think that those operating the NOx sources would request a number at least a bit higher than what they expect to actually emit.

    Also, could you lend any insight as to where exactly the sources for this NOx is coming from? Is it a byproduct associated with condensates? Is is mostly from compressor stations? Do you know if compressor stations in the SW part of the state are using NG to fuel their compressors the way we do out here in dry gas areas like Armstrong/Indiana counties?

    Sorry for peppering you with questions yet again, trying to wrap my head around all of these new numbers.



  2. A permit number is a max number. The actual emissions should be lower, but might not be. Violations of permits do occur. I suspect that these emission numbers are for stationary sources that have diesel engines with limited controls. Your questions are great. I will see if I can get some better answers.

  3. Thanks John. It's an absolute shame that any compressor stations are being run on dirty diesel instead of natural gas, (or LNG if the BTU requirements for the compressors can't sustain the low BTU content of NG). Hopefully this is something the industry will move towards itself, perhaps with the nudging of some good legislation out of Harrisburg or D.C.


  4. I am being told that the 13,000 tons number is for compressor stations alone. It is a permission to emit number or max and not an actual emission number. The real moment of truth will be the ground level ozone readings. The monitors that measure ozone. What those readings are will be crucial.

    I also think more and more companies are moving away from diesel for drilling rigs and other engines. That is good. But the Marcellus is so big just avoiding diesel may not be enough. Pollution controls will matter.

  5. Mike -

    The 13,000 tons per year represents the potential to emit (PTE) from gas fired internal combustion compressor engines. GP-5 authorizes 2.0 g/bhp-hr of NOx. PennFuture has been attempting to obtain, unsuccessfully at this point, any existing inventory of annual NOx emissions from these sources. DEP may not have the data organized in that way. Consequently, I cannot answer now your question about the delta between actual and permitted emissions.

    Regards, Geo.

  6. *** Breaking News!!! **** Pennsylvania environmental regulators have given permission to a natural-gas driller to stop delivering replacement water to residents whose drinking-water wells were tainted with methane.

    Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. has been delivering water to homes in the northeast village of Dimock since January of 2009. The Houston-based energy company asked the Department of Protection for permission to stop the water deliveries by the end of November, saying Dimock's water is safe to drink.

    DEP granted Cabot's request late Tuesday. The agency says Cabot has satisfied the terms of a December settlement agreement.

    Residents who are suing Cabot say their water is still tainted with unsafe levels of methane and possibly other contaminants.

    Regulators previously found that Cabot drilled faulty gas wells that allowed methane to escape into Dimock's aquifer.

  7. Please comment on the PA DEP allowing Cabot to cut off water deliveries to people in Dimock and possibly allow them to continue drilling in the same area......Thanks

  8. I do not have access to the current gas well or water well data. Gas drilling mistakes caused water wells to be contaminated. Three gas wells were plugged. More gas wells were repaired. Cabot was fined over $1.3 million. Individual escrow accounts averaging more than $200,000 each and totaling more than $4.1 million were established. Payments were equal to two times property value of affected families.

  9. Misleading - Payments were equal to two times property value of affected families.

    Should correct that to read two time ASSESSED propety value, assessed property value is significantly less than "property value" figure that would be set by a realtor as a sale price.

    Cabot, PA DEP and Dimock
    Connecting the Dots: The Marcellus Natural Gas Play Players – Part 4
    By Dory Hippauf