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Staying Under the Threshold - Avoiding Title V Operating Permits for Oil and Gas Operations

Obtaining an air permit in a timely manner is a critical factor for achieving operational efficiency in Oil and Gas production operations and the development of hydrocarbon resources, but it can be a complex undertaking.

The most difficult type of air permit to obtain is a Title V operating permit, simply known as a Title V permit, which was established under Title V of the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990 and administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Oil and Gas operators generally try to avoid the Title V process, given the extensive time and expense required to obtain one, let alone maintain ongoing compliance with Title V permit requirements.

Title V is far-reaching, impacting varied stationary sources of air emissions, including landfills, municipal waste combustors, hospital waste incinerators, glass manufacturers, energy production operations, and many other industries. Stationary sources of emissions can include factories, industrial boilers, power plants, and more. If a stationary source generates emissions for any controlled substance exceeding 100 tons per year, it must obtain a Title V permit.

In this article, we focus on the Oil and Gas production segment, cover the main elements of Title V permitting, and discuss some of the technologies operators can employ to avoid them. We note that this article is not a comprehensive overview of air permitting requirements and encourage operators to seek the guidance and input of environmental consultants and legal counsel with respect to their individual operations and situations.

Title V Permitting Overview

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) explains, “The Clean Air Act (CAA) establishes two air pollution permitting programs for stationary sources: New Source Review (NSR) preconstruction permits that establish requirements for new or modified sources, and Title V operating permits that incorporate applicable requirements for certain sources to improve compliance.”

As far as who issues air permits, NSR permits can be issued by the EPA, or by a state, local or tribal (SLT) air pollution control agency, depending on which entity is the permitting authority for the area in which the facility is located.

In terms of what substances are regulated, the CAA mandates EPA to set levels for emissions known as National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for six substances which it has deemed “criteria pollutants” for assessing permitting requirements, including:

  1. Ozone

  2. Sulfur Dioxide (SO2)

  3. Carbon Monoxide (CO)

  4. Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)

  5. Lead (Pb)

  6. Particulate Matter

EPA further regulates certain precursor substances of the above substances. For Oil and Gas producers, the most significant precursor substances are Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), which when combined with particulates and sunlight form ground-level Ozone.

The two major factors involving permitting are the location of the stationary source (facility) and the quantity of emissions it will emit. We cover each factor below.

Factor 1: Facility Location

When evaluating permit types and NAAQS thresholds, EPA classifies designated areas three ways:

  1. Attainment (does meet standards)

  2. Nonattainment (does not meet standards)

  3. Unclassifiable (not enough data to decide)

Sources (e.g., Oil and Gas production facilities, compressor stations, and well sites) located in Nonattainment areas are subject to more stringent permitting requirements than those in Attainment areas.

LEARN MORE: Map of EPA Nonattainment Areas (EPA Green Book)

Factor 2: Emission Quantities (PTE)

As previously noted, the other primary factor in determining what type of permit an operator of a new source must obtain is the amount of substances the source will emit once operational, otherwise known as Potential to Emit (PTE).

EPA defines PTE as “The maximum capacity of a stationary source to emit a pollutant, based on its physical and operational design. In most cases, this means the potential amount of emissions produced by the source, if it were to run at full capacity, 24 hours a day, seven days a week for a full year.”


EPA further classifies sources as follows:

  • Major Source. Facilities that emit “criteria pollutants” greater than Major Source thresholds.

  • Minor Source. Facilities that emit “criteria pollutants” less than Major Source thresholds.

Minor Sources are further classified into “True” Minor Sources and “Synthetic” Minor Sources. A Synthetic Minor source is one having a PTE level that would` otherwise classify it as a Major Source but is subject to enforceable restrictions that reduces its PTE to Minor Source levels or uses certain equipment to achieve Minor Source thresholds. For example, a large industrial bakery that limits work hours to a single shift, instead of two or three, reduces emissions within a 24-hour period to an eight-hour equivalent. We cover how different equipment types impact Synthetic Minor thresholds later in this article.

The table below from EPA summarizes the PTE thresholds for Minor Source classification for both Nonattainment and Attainments areas. If a source’s PTE is greater than these Minor Source thresholds, it is a Major Source.

PTE thresholds for Minor Source classification for both Nonattainment and Attainments areas

Focus on Oil and Gas PTE

Emissions of VOC and Nitrogen Oxides (NOx) are of particular concern for Oil and Gas operators because both substances are generated from routine oil and gas production processes, and as noted previously are precursors to Ozone formation. Tank venting and fugitive emissions resulting from unlit flare pilot flames, piping connection leaks, worn gaskets and other sources release VOC and methane to the atmosphere, while the flaring of waste gas (e.g., tank vapors or associated gas) generates NOx.


The table below summarizes air permit types and general characteristics by emissions source types.

Source Type

Permit Focus

Permit(s) Required

Compliance Burden

True Minor Source

Emissions (PTE) without any process or control equipment

General Permits and Permit by Rule

Simple and inexpensive

Synthetic Minor Source

Emissions (PTE), as impacted by process or control equipment

General Permits and Permit by Rule

Significant and more expensive

Major Source


Title V

Stringent, requiring ongoing monitoring and reporting. Most expensive.


Oil and Gas operators have strong incentives to maintain PTE below Major Source thresholds to avoid the time-consuming and expensive process of obtaining a Title V permit and the ongoing compliance requirements. Under a Title V permit, operators must certify compliance when initially applying for a Title V permit and in general recertify annually. Title V also generally requires operators to submit a monitoring report at least semi-annually.

States can customize Minor Source requirements, but state-run programs must be approved by the EPA and provide equivalent or stricter air quality regulations compared to the federal standards. Once approved by the EPA, the state agency becomes responsible for issuing and enforcing Title V permits within its jurisdiction. As a result, Major Source thresholds differ from one state to another.

If a state does not have an approved Title V program or if certain facilities fall under federal jurisdiction for other reasons (such as being located on tribal lands or in areas with specific federal oversight), the EPA regional office takes on the responsibility of issuing Title V permits.

Regardless of whether permits are issued by state agencies or the EPA, they must comply with the requirements outlined in Title V of the Clean Air Act and any applicable regulations established by the EPA or the state. This includes ensuring that permits are issued in a timely manner, contain all necessary conditions for compliance, and are subject to public notice and participation requirements.



Process Equipment or Control Equipment – Impact on PTE

The regulatory classification of equipment is a key factor in determining PTE from Oil and Gas production operations. EPA classifies equipment used at a well site or production facility as either Process or emissions Control equipment.

When making this determination, the EPA considers three questions:

  1. Is the primary purpose of the equipment to control air pollution?

  2. Where the equipment is recovering product, how do the cost savings from the product recovery compare to the cost of the equipment?

  3. Would the equipment be installed if no air quality regulations are in place?

The answers to these questions are important. If the answers suggest that equipment should be considered as an integral part of the production process, then the equipment or practices can be considered when calculating PTE, regardless of whether enforceable limitations are in effect.

Focus on Colorado

In 2022, Colorado was the fourth largest oil producing state, supplying 3.7% of total U.S. oil production. In 2022, EPA downgraded the Denver metro/north Front Range region to a “severe” Nonattainment area, which subjects Oil and Gas operators to more stringent permitting requirements.  

As a result, the Major Source threshold for emissions from Oil and Gas production operations was lowered to 25 tons per year (TPY), which includes emissions of VOC and NOx. At the time, state regulators estimated the more stringent requirement would triple the number of well sites and production facilities classified as Major Sources, bringing the total up to 730.

Additionally, the Colorado state government transferred responsibility for air permitting from the Energy and Carbon Management Commission (ECMC), formerly known as the Colorado Oil & Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC), to the less industry friendly Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). This served to make drilling permitting more difficult and time-consuming.

We anticipate that regulators in other oil producing states may seek to follow in Colorado’s footsteps, highlighting the need to proactively maintain emissions of VOC and NOx below Major Source thresholds.

The good news is that there are solutions operators can employ to minimize PTE cost-effectively, for both new oil production facilities as well as expanding existing ones.

Pioneer Energy Solutions for Reducing Emissions (PTE)

Pioneer Energy offers a comprehensive lineup of solutions based on field-proven technology. Since our solutions are integral to the Oil and Gas production process, they are considered Process Equipment for purposes of air permitting and have a direct impact on minimizing PTE.

Our relevant solutions include:

The Emission Control Treater™ (ECT™) is a first-of-its-kind zero emission production system that processes wellhead fluid at the pad, replacing traditional surface processing infrastructure. It increases crude volume production, dramatically reduces wellpad emissions, eliminates flaring, and decreases pad footprint.

The Pegasus Mini™ is a field gas processing system which conditions associated gas for use as fuel in drilling rigs, compressors, gensets and turbines and can be used on an oil production pad to condition the gas for gas lift compressors, heater treaters and the various pilots on site. The system comes in HP and LP configurations. The Pegasus Mini is compact, highly mobile and produces consistent, high quality fuel gas which can reduce field dependence on diesel, CNG or dirty gas fuel. The result is fuel cost savings and emissions reduction. These units have various capacities from 450 Mscfd to 6000 Mscfd.

Field Gas Processing Benefits

From tankless production facilities to field gas conditioning, Pioneer Energy’s technology for production and field gas processing can help you achieve several critical benefits from decarbonizing your operations, including:

  • Minimize and maintain PTE Below Major Source Thresholds, helping avoid costly and time-consuming Title V operating permits.

  • Converting the flaring of waste gas into revenue and incremental profits.

  • Displacing expensive and dirty diesel fuel for field gensets, and the Scope 2 emissions from transporting fuel to production facilities.

  • Increasing uptime and production system reliability with consistent high-quality fuel gas.

  • Eliminating venting and fugitive emissions from tank batteries and vent systems with tankless production solutions.

Eliminating methane and VOC plumes that are the result of pilots and heaters shutdown due to low quality field gas fuel Contact us today to learn how Pioneer Energy technology can help you simplify your air permitting requirements and maintain operational efficiency.


About Pioneer Energy

Pioneer Energy is the leading provider of field equipment for processing natural gas at oil and gas production well sites and facilities. We are Pioneering Technology for Decarbonizing Oil & Gas Production with innovative technologies that offer operators the most reliable, rugged and easy-to-use solutions for reducing emissions and converting inefficiencies into profits.

Based in Colorado, our technologies are operating successfully in multiple oil and gas regions. Pioneer Energy’s engineering, field service, and remote operations teams provide best-in-class support for our domestic and international customers, and we offer custom engineering design and fabrication services in our state-of-the-art facility.

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