Monday, October 9, 2023

Sierra Club's Delaware County Team Hosts Oct. 16 Webinar On Lawsuit Challenging Law Preventing DEP From Protecting Public Health, Environment From Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Wells

On August 24,
PennFuture, the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Protect Penn-Trafford, and Earthworks announced they have filed a joint lawsuit in Commonwealth Court against the General Assembly and Gov. Shapiro, challenging the constitutionality of a law that prevents the Commonwealth from protecting communities, public health and the environment from the harm caused by abandoned conventional oil and gas wells.

Learn more about this lawsuit by joining an October 16 webinar hosted by the Sierra Club’s Delaware County Team starting at 7:30 p.m.

The Sierra Club’s point person for the lawsuit, Kelsey Krepps, Senior Field Organizer for the PA Chapter, will give a special presentation on the legal action.

Click Here to register.  A Zoom link will be sent in return.


The groups said in their lawsuit thousands of abandoned, unplugged conventional wells in Pennsylvania leak methane and other harmful chemicals into the air and water, harming public health and worsening the climate crisis.

They mar communities, reduce property values, and depress the local tax base. They are also at risk of explosion.

The Commonwealth has the ability to require oil and gas companies to pay a bond to ensure that these wells don’t go abandoned and unplugged.

But in 2022, the Pennsylvania legislature passed Act 96, which removed the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board  authority to adjust well bonding amounts and capped the amount for conventional wells at just $2,500 per well.   Read more here.

"When it passed Act 96, the Pennsylvania legislature tied the hands of regulators, blocking them from making common-sense changes to bonding requirements that would speed up plugging of these wells," said Kelsey Krepps, Sierra Club's Senior Field Organizer. "This lawsuit asks the court to rule Act 96 unconstitutional under the Environmental Rights Amendment, clearing the way for regulators to adopt policies that keep cleanup costs where they belong: with the operators who profit from these wells, not the communities who have to live with ongoing pollution from abandoned wells."

Well bond amounts — the money drilling companies have to put aside for cleanup and plugging before being allowed to drill a new well — no longer cover the costs of closing a well, which means if an oil or gas company goes out of business and abandons their wells, the cost of plugging those wells falls to Pennsylvania taxpayers. 

"We'd like to see the well bonding amounts reflect the actual cost of well plugging to ensure there is no financial incentive for drillers to abandon their wells and leave taxpayers on the hook," said PennFuture Senior Attorney Jessica O'Neill. "Sufficient bonding amounts are necessary to protect community and environmental health, as well as local economies, from the pollution that stems from abandoned and uncapped non-producing conventional gas wells."

The Sierra Club commissioned a report by Dr. Jeremy Weber of the University of Pittsburgh to investigate the bonding amounts for well plugging and the regulatory recommendations that would influence the requests in the two rulemaking petitions. 

The published 2021 report found that plugging conventional wells costs at least $38,000 per well, 900% more than the General Assembly's cap.

"If you or I were to dirty someone else's property, the law would hold us accountable," said Joseph Minott, Clean Air Council Executive Director and Chief Counsel. "Yet Pennsylvania's Legislature passed a law to give gas and oil drillers a pass for doing the same thing. That's not just wrong; it's unconstitutional."

"Oil and gas companies will continue to abandon wells recklessly and pollute Pennsylvania communities until our state government requires them to set aside adequate funds to clean up their mess," said Melissa Ostroff, Earthworks Pennsylvania Policy and Field Advocate. "Current bonding requirements do not protect Pennsylvanians. The rights protected by the Pennsylvania Constitution empower and obligate the Commonwealth to prevent bad operators from walking away from the harmful pollution they leave behind."

“The Pennsylvania Constitution charges our government with protecting our clean air and water,” said Gillian Graber, Executive Director of Protect PT. “But since they are falling short, we must hold them accountable.”

Carbon Tracker's Asset Retirement Obligations Portal estimates that it would cost $15 billion to plug all the orphan and abandoned gas wells in Pennsylvania. But the state currently has only 

$47.2 million in bonding available to plug these wells.

Click Here for a copy of the lawsuit.

In July, the Environmental Quality Board voted  to accept the Department’s report on a rulemaking petition submitted by the Sierra Club and other groups in September of 2021 that the EQB no longer has the authority to adjust conventional well bonding amounts for 10 years under Act 96 passed and signed into law by Gov. Wolf on July 19, 2022.  Read more here.

400 - 600 New Conventional Well Abandonments A Year

In December, DEP issued the first-ever assessment of how well conventional oil and gas operators comply with state environmental laws.  They found continuing to abandon oil and gas wells to be the most frequent violation DEP deals with saying between 400 and 600 conventional wells continue to be abandoned each year by operators.  Read more here.

The report said conventional operators had a “culture of non-compliance” that is “an acceptable norm in the conventional oil and gas industry.”  Read more here.

A report issued in April by the Environmental Defense Fund said a new study found 55,000 oil and gas wells owned by operators in Pennsylvania are at high risk of becoming abandoned leaving state taxpayers holding the bag for $3.7 billion in well plugging and cleanup costs.  Read more here.

The same report said another 51,000 conventional wells were at risk of being transferred to low solvency owners.  Read more here.

A hearing in April by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee further documented significant noncompliance by conventional oil and gas well owners, including the pervasive practices of well abandonment.  Read more here.

In May, the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out House Bill 962 (Vitali-D-Delaware) that corrects the flaws in Act 96 by a party-line vote-- Republicans opposing.  

The bill remains on the House Calendar for action.  Read more here.

Related Articles - Conventional Well Abandonments:

-- Lawsuit Filed Against General Assembly, Governor Challenges Constitutionality Of Law Preventing DEP From Protecting Public Health, Environment From Harm Caused By Abandoning Conventional Oil & Gas Wells  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’   [PaEN]

-- EDF: Pennsylvania Has 55,000 Oil/Gas Wells At High Risk Of Being Abandoned; 51,000 Wells At Risk Of Being Transferred To Low Solvency Owners; Current Conventional Well Owners Abandon 561 Wells A Year, On Average  [PaEN]

-- Democrats On House Environmental Committee Report Out Bill To Help Prevent The Routine Abandonment Of 561 Conventional Oil/Gas Wells A Year  [PaEN]

-- House Hearing: Let’s Work Together To Make Conventional Oil & Gas Industry Practices Cleaner, Respect Property Rights, Protect Taxpayers And Prevent New Abandoned Wells   [PaEN]

-- EQB No Longer Has Statutory Authority To Change Conventional Oil & Gas Well Bonding Amounts To Prevent 400 to 600 New Well Abandonments A Year  [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - October 7 to 13 - More Abandoned Conventional Wells; Spills; Venting Gas; Emergency Well Plugging  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - October 14 [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posted 55 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In October 14 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Industry Still Fighting To Make Road Dumping Its Wastewater Legal; DEP Introduces Concepts Of A ‘Life Insurance Policy’ For Plugging Wells; Certified 3rd Party Inspectors  [PaEN]

-- The Derrick: Permanent Alternate Water Supply Being Considered For Village Of Reno, Venango County After Contamination By Conventional Oil Well Wastewater Spill  [PaEN] 

-- Vice Chair Of DEP Citizens Advisory Council Asks DEP To Report On University Of Pittsburgh Study That Found At Least 800,000 Tons Of Oil & Gas Production Waste Sent To Landfills Was Unaccounted For In One Year  [PaEN]

-- DEP Reports Shale Gas Operations Sent Over 138,000 Cubic Feet Of Radioactive TENORM Waste To Low-Level Radioactive Waste Facilities For Disposal In 2022 - Over  911,000 Cubic Feet Since 2017  [PaEN]

-- DEP Invites Comments At Nov. 14 Hearing On Air Quality Permit For Energy Transfer Natural Gas Liquids Marcus Hook Terminal In An EJ Area, Delaware County  [PaEN] 

-- Better Path Coalition: Oct. 18 Webinar Launching 9th Compendium Of Scientific, Medical Findings Demonstrating Risks, Harms Of Natural Gas Development, Infrastructure  [PaEN]

-- Sierra Club's Delaware County Team Hosts Oct. 16 Webinar On Lawsuit Challenging Law Preventing DEP From Protecting Public Health, Environment From Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Wells  [PaEN]

-- House Committee Meets Oct. 16 On Cryptocurrency Mining Moratorium Bill; Resolution To Study Potential Of Geothermal Energy From Abandoned Mine Pools  [PaEN] 

-- PJM Interconnection Formally Files Changes To Electric Capacity Market Rules With FERC Based Largely On Unreliability Of Natural Gas-Fired Power Plants During Winter Storm Elliot  [PaEN] 

-- DOE Awards Natural Gas-Based Hydrogen Hub In Western PA, Renewable/Nuclear Power-Based Hydrogen Hub In Eastern PA; Reactions  [PaEN]

NewsClips This Week:

-- The Allegheny Front: After Fayette County’s First Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Well Permit Was Withdrawn From EPA; Residents Worry There May Be More To Come

-- TribLive: Some Plum Boro, Allegheny County Residents, Activists Push Back Against 2nd Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Well

-- Post-Gazette: Plum Boro, Allegheny County, Environmental Group Go To Commonwealth Court Trying To Stop New Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Well

-- Inside Climate News: Plum Boro, Allegheny County, Environmental Group Go To Commonwealth Court Trying To Stop New Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Well

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Plum Boro, Allegheny County Residents Battle Penneco, Zoning Board Over Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Well

-- Warren Times: Land-For-Shale Gas Deal Between Game Commission, PA General Energy Will Result In New State Game Land In Warren County

-- PA Physicians For Social Responsibility: MarkWest Carpenter Natural Gas Compressor Station Natural Gas Leaks In Washington County [Video]

-- Observer-Reporter: Local Couple First Natural Gas Leaseholders To Contribute To Giving Fund Account Created By EQT Natural Gas At Washington County Community Foundation  [EQT Matches Donations]  [Check EQT’s DEP Compliance Record here. ]

-- Observer-Reporter: Range Resources Welcomes 150 Female Students To Annual Power Of Her Event  [Check Range Resources DEP Compliance Record here.

-- Reading Eagle: Chocolate Company Pushes Back Against OSHA Finding Company Was Responsible For Deaths From Natural Gas Explosion

-- The Daily Item Letter: Fossil Fuels Have A History Of Being Unreliable

-- Warren Times: Gasoline Prices Fall In Region, But Not In Warren County  [In Middle Of Conventional Oil Drilling Country]

[Posted: October 9, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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