The Environmental Quality Board today approved, by a 14-1 vote, a proposed set of regulatory improvements that will make natural gas wells in Pennsylvania significantly safer by making them subject to more stringent construction standards.
The proposed oil and gas well cementing and casing requirements will help prevent natural gas from migrating from a well, which has been associated with contaminated water supplies and adverse impacts to public health and safety.
Additionally, the new rules will require drillers to report production and waste volumes electronically and to submit a detailed report of the chemicals they use to hydraulically fracture wells.
"The EQB's actions will strengthen our regulations significantly, making them as strong as any in the country," said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger. "They will lead to a decline in the number of incidents and problems we have experienced related to gas migration."
The board approved the proposed rulemaking in May. During a subsequent 30-day public comment period and after five scheduled public hearings, the board received nearly 2,000 public comments, the majority of which were supportive. DEP also met with numerous oil and gas operators, industry groups and environmental groups to discuss the regulations in detail.
The department used the public's input to make several important changes to the regulations, which further improved the well design requirements to prevent gas migration incidents, including:
-- A provision that requires operators to have a pressure barrier plan to minimize well control events;
-- A provision that requires operators to condition the wellbore to ensure an adequate bond between the cement, casing and the formation;
-- Provisions that require the use of centralizers to ensure casings are properly positioned in the wellbore; and
-- A provision that improves the quality of the cement placed in the casing that protects fresh groundwater.
In addition to these important provisions, the EQB-approved regulations will require operators to keep a list of emergency contact phone numbers at the well site and specify what actions an operator must take in the event of a gas migration incident. It also includes amended provisions that clarify how and when blow-out prevention equipment is to be installed and operated.
The next steps in the regulatory review process are review by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission scheduled for November 18, and the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees.
If approved by IRRC and the standing committees, the final step in the regulatory review process is review by the Attorney General's office.
Once all reviews and approvals are obtained, the regulations will go into effect upon publication in the PA Bulletin.
A copy of the final rule is available on the Environmental Quality Board meeting webpage.