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Senate, House Legislation Coming To Create New Law To Regulate Conventional Oil & Gas Well Drilling

Legislation will soon be introduced in the Senate and House to regulate conventional oil and gas drilling separately from Act 13 of 2012 that now sets environmental protection standards for both conventional and unconventional drilling.

On June 6, Sen. Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) announced plans to introduce the legislation this session.  Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) was the prime sponsor of conventional drilling legislation last session in Senate Bill 1088.

Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) also announced plans to reintroduce his conventional oil and gas legislation from last session-- House Bill 2154.

What To Look For

While it is not known at this point whether the Senate version of the legislation will be the same as Senate Bill 1088 from last session, the intent of Rep. Causer seems clear, he said he was introducing House Bill 2154.

Here are some things to look for in this session’s bills.

House Bill 2154 and the identical Senate Bill 1088 from last session established the Conventional Oil and Gas Act effectively turning back the clock on regulating this kind of drilling to the Oil and Gas Act passed in 1984.

Although based on the Oil and Gas Act adopted in 1984.  There were some key differences even from that basic law and current requirements--

-- Eliminates Protections For Public Resources: Section 305 of the draft omits this language from Section 205 of the 1984 law--

The department shall, on a making a determination on a well permit, consider the impact of the proposed well on public resources to include, but not be limited to, the following:

(1)  Publicly owned parks, forests, gamelands and wildlife areas.

(2)  National or State scenic rivers.

(3)  National natural landmarks.

(4)  Habitats of rare and endangered flora and fauna and other critical communities.

(5)  Historical and archaeological sites listed on the federal or State list of historic places.

The conventional oil and gas industry lost a challenge to DEP’s ability to consider impacts on public resources last June before the PA Supreme Court.  This is no doubt an attempt to correct that.  Click Here for more.

-- Preempts Local Ordinances: Although Section 902 on preemption of all local ordinances was included in the 1984 Oil and Gas Act and is repeated here, the provisions related to preempting the application of local ordinances regulating land development from applying to conventional oil and gas operations clearly run afoul of the PA Supreme Court’s Robinson Township decision in 2013 based on the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution.

-- Drastically Increases The Threshold For Spill Reporting: New Section 1103 eliminates the requirement to report any spills less than 5 barrels of oil (200 gallons) or 15 barrels of brine (600 gallons) unless the well operator determines there is an immediate threat to public safety, health or the environment. The DEP threshold for reporting now is 5 gallons of a regulated substance, like oil and more than 5 gallons of brine within 24-hour period.

-- Takes Away Authority For DEP To Issue Injection Well Permits: New Section 904 takes away DEP’s present authority to issue its own permit for drilling waste injection wells unless it has primacy under the U.S. EPA Underground Injection Well Program.  DEP has approved permits for 3 injections wells for drilling wastewater in Clearfield,  Elk and Indiana counties.

-- Sets New Standard For Crude Oil Spill Site Cleanup: New Section 1103 sets a new standard for crude oil spill site cleanup from active wells in law for total petroleum hydrocarbons of 10,000 mg/kg (ppm) and substitutes something called "established field practices" for cleaning up a spill rather than the methods used in the PA Land Recycling Program. The number comes from EPA’s standard for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells where no responsible party is found.  The PA Land Recycling Program does not have a total petroleum hydrocarbon standard because it is too imprecise.  Instead, standards are set for benzene, toluene , ethylbenzene and xylene.

-- Allows For Warnings For Violations: New Section 711 establishes a new enforcement practice of issuing warnings for violations that pose no material harm to public health or the environment, rather than just having DEP issue notices of violations to “alleviate the unwarranted use of notices of violation for minor violations.”  The warnings will be issued were compliance can be accomplished within 48 hours and cannot be used as a basis for a civil penalty when compliance is achieved.

House Bill 2154 was passed by the House last year, reported out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and then the Senate Appropriations Committee, but died on the Senate Calendar when session adjourned for the year.

Senate Bill 1088 remained in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.

Significant Opposition

The PA Environmental Council, Environmental Defense Fund and other environmental groups opposed these bills saying, “Senate Bill 1088 [and House Bill 2154] would not only reverse protection standards from the 2012 law, it would actually be weaker in several important instances than the original 1984 Oil and Gas Act.

“Pennsylvania would have the discreditable distinction of being the only state in the country to walk back protections applied to oil and gas operations – whether conventional or unconventional.

“In fact, the way certain provisions are worded in this legislation, this bill could potentially weaken standards applied to unconventional operations as well.”

Click Here for more.

Conventional Drilling Compliance

The 2017 Oil and Gas Annual Report released in August of last year by the Department of Environmental Protection [the most recent available] shows the number of conventional oil and gas well violations more than tripled between 2015 and 2017 from 1,024 to 3,273 in 2017.

 Of the conventional well violations in 2017, 1,803 were environmental health and safety-related violations and 1,470 were administratively-related violations.  In 2016, of the 1,804 violations-- 870 were environmental health and safety and 960 were administrative.

It is important to note regulations covering conventional wells were never updated to meet the requirements in Act 13 of 2012 as the regulations were for unconventional shale gas wells, so they have been operating under the same DEP regulations that have been in place for some time.

Legislation killing the final version of an update to separate regulations covering conventional drilling was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law by Gov. Wolf in June of 2016.

The legislation also created the PA Grade Crude Development Advisory Council that was supposed to advise DEP on development a new update to the conventional drilling regulations, but so far no draft regulations have been discussed by the Council since it was created in 2016.

So stay tuned for more.

Related Stories:

DEP: Conventional Oil & Gas Well Violations More Than Triple Between 2015-2017

House Passes Bill Weakening Standards For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

PEC, EDF: Conventional Oil & Gas Bill Will Reverse, Weaken Environmental Protection Standards For Fracking

[Posted: June 7, 2019]


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