Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Senate Environmental Committee Expects Gas Well Blowout Report In 3 Weeks

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee his agency's investigation into the June 3 Clearfield County Marcellus Shale gas well blowout should be completed in about three weeks.
"As we develop this important clean energy resource, we must ensure that the safety of workers and local residents, as well as the protection of the environment and natural resources, is a top priority for all involved in the process," said Sen. Mary Jo White (R-Venango), Majority Chair of the Committee.
In opening remarks, Sen. White said the June 3rd blowout was a near miss and, along with the Gulf Oil spill, has shaken public confidence in safely drilling for oil and gas.
In response to a question, Secretary Hanger said there may be a need to clarify DEP's authority to withhold permits from well drillers who do not operate safely. He also suggested the state require the certification of well drilling operators, piggybacking on a federal certification requirement.
So far this year, DEP completed 1,700 well site inspections and found 530 violations which varied from simple administrative errors, but others he said were "concerning." Secretary Hanger said he is not pleased with this record. "There are too many leaks, too many spills, too much gas migration. This is not world class," he said.
Secretary Hanger said, although the full investigation is not complete, there are serious questions about the delay by the well operator in notifying his agency of the June 3 blowout. The blowout happened at 6:45 p.m. but no external calls were made by the operator until 9:30 p.m. he said.
The Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee will hold a separate hearing on June 29 on the emergency response aspects of the gas well blowout and natural gas well emergencies generally.
Also addressing the panel were two representatives of the Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale Coalition: David Spigelmyer, Vice President for Government Relations Chesapeake Energy, and Ralph Tijerina, Director of Health, Safety, Security and Environment for Range Resources Inc.
Spigelmyer told the Committee, "Marcellus production holds enormous promise for this Commonwealth and we cannot jeopardize that potential through less than top-level operations." He said the blowout in Clearfield County was "unacceptable."
In addition, Sen. Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) submitted a statement for the record on several issues related to Marcellus Shale development in the state and DEP Deputy Secretary for Mineral Resources Management Scott Roberts accompanied Secretary Hanger at the hearing.
Sen. White said the Committee awaits the report to be delivered by DEP on the Clearfield County incident, and stands ready to work cooperatively with the department on ensuring that drilling activity is done safely in the Commonwealth.
All testimony, video and audio of the meeting will be posted online at the Committee's webpage.
Sen. Ray Musto (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair of the Committee.
Report On Clearfield Gas Well Blowout Due Next Month
DEP Secretary Warns Of Consequences To Gas Industry
U.S. State Calls For Tougher Gas Drilling Regulation
PA Environmental Official Calls For Safer Natural Gas Industry

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