Final Vote Expected This Week In House On Bill Reducing Environmental Protection Requirements For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling
House Republicans are positioning Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) for a final vote by the full House next week. The bill would significantly reduce requirements for protecting the environment from conventional oil and gas drilling.
On January 15, the full House gave the bill a second reading without debate, which normally happens on bills. There were six amendments filed to the bill scheduled to be considered, but they were all withdrawn.
The bill was then referred to the House Appropriations Committee, the last stop before a final vote in the full House-- probably on Tuesday or Wednesday of next week.
If a final vote is taken, the bill will return to the Senate for an up or down concurrence vote. Or, the Senate could choose to restore its language legalizing dumping and send it back to the House.
The House action follows a vote by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on January 13 to amend the bill to remove a provision legalizing the road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater, but the bill still significantly reduces environmental protections from the impacts of conventional oil and gas well drilling.
Over 166 statewide and local environmental groups and over 1,445 citizens have made it clear to legislators they oppose this legislation and legalizing road dumping. Click Here for more.
Gov. Wolf has renewed his promise to veto the bill because it still contains significant flaws.
Action on Senate Bill 790 now without the language legalizing road dumping of drilling wastewater does not preclude steps being taken in the future to slip the legalization language in other legislation-- say in the budget-related bills that must pass in June.
The PA Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Fund outlined their opposition to key provisions in the bill in a September 19 letter to Senate members. Most of the concerns expressed in the letter have not yet been addressed.
The concerns included--
-- Excluding any well that uses fracking as a conventional well from the bill;
-- Oppose blanket bonds to insure wells are properly plugged covering an unlimited number of conventional wells and recommended an increase in bonding amounts;
-- Requirements for plugging a well need to be clear and should not allow a continuous flow of water out of a well;
-- Requirements for mechanical integrity and surface casing should apply to all wells;
-- The provisions related to bonding and plugging wells involved in permit transfers to a new owner are inadequate;
-- There should be specific provisions for operation and remediation of orphan wells;
-- Well location restrictions and setbacks from areas that flood in particular need to be updated and revised, including the protection of public resources; and
-- The bill must ensure when water supplies affected by conventional drilling are replaced they must, at a minimum, meet safe drinking water standards.
Senate Bill 790 was introduced as a follow up to action by the General Assembly to kill DEP’s final updated conventional drilling regulations in 2016 because the industry thought they were too strict.
The law then created the PA Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, made up of all industry-related individuals, 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.
The bill is a companion to House Bill 1635 (Causer-R-Cameron) also introduced in June. The language in House Bill 1635 passed the House last session as House Bill 2154, moved to the Senate and reported out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and was awaiting action on the Senate Calendar when the session ended.
Senate Bill 790 has different provisions than House Bill 1635 which turns back the clock of environmental regulation of conventional wells all the way back to 1984. Click Here for more background.
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[Posted: January 15, 2020]
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