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.