Thursday, December 1, 2022

DEP: Schedule For Updating Conventional Oil & Gas Environmental, Waste Regulations Will Be Up To Gov. Shapiro

On December 1, Kurt Klapkowski, Acting DEP Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management, said the schedule for considering updates to environmental protection standards for conventional oil and gas drillers will be up to the incoming Shapiro-Davis Administration.

He made the comments to members of DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board at a December 1 meeting.

Klapkowski explained that for more than two years, DEP has been in the process of updating conventional oil and gas environmental protection and waste disposal and handling standards, after the last comprehensive update was “abrogated” by the General Assembly in 2016.  Read more here.

The first of two regulatory packages dealing with permitting and environmental protection standards was expected to come before the Environmental Quality Board for action this year, but didn’t.

“The Environmental Protection Standards proposed rulemaking was reviewed by CDAC [Crude (Oil) Development Advisory Council] earlier this year, and they prepared a report to the Environmental Quality Board, so that regulation is in process to move to the Environmental Quality Board,” said Klapkowski. “But I wouldn't expect an Environmental Quality Board meeting probably until March of next year, would be my guess, for the earliest one.” 

The second draft of the second package-- dealing primarily with waste disposal, handling and similar  requirements-- also was not completed.

“For the waste management rulemaking, we have not had that formal sort of review by the CDAC to date. We will be discussing this at their meeting on December 15th,” said Klapkowski.  “I'm not sure that formal review will occur at that meeting, but we are going to be putting this back in front of them again.” 

The last draft of the waste handling regulation update was posted by DEP in September, 2021.

However, that draft did not address many key issues, like continuing to allow the road dumping of conventional oil and gas wastewater on dirt and gravel roads.

A comprehensive study released by Penn State in May found runoff from spreading conventional oil and gas wastewater on unpaved roads contains concentrations of barium, strontium, lithium, iron, manganese that exceed human-health based criteria and levels of radioactive radium that exceed industrial discharge standards.  Read more here.

In fact, 84 municipalities are designated by DEP as “waste facilities” because of the road dumping of conventional drilling wastewater.  Read more here.

Unconventional shale gas operators are already banned from dumping their wastewater on roads.

It also did not address the issue of conventional oil and gas operators creating thousands of dumpsites across the state through practices allowing on-site disposal of drill cuttings and drilling wastewater.  Read more here.

In addition, conventional oil and gas operators only pay $46,100 of the $10,600,000 it costs to regulate the industry.  Read more here.

“The other piece of it has to do with the area of review requirements. and one of the things that we've done with the area of review requirements that I think will be very instructive for folks who see this rulemaking or have seen it in the past is that we did take a hard look at the sections that had to deal with area of review in the unconventional regulations and maybe some flaws in some of how they were drafted and how they were structured,” explained Klapkowski.

“So for the conventional waste management regulations, again, this one is sort of second in line for us behind the environmental protection standards regulations. So I would say that the timeline's a little longer on that one,” said Klapkowski.

Follow-Up At Dec. 15 Meeting

Klapkowski said there will also be more discussion of the update to the conventional oil and gas regulations at the December 15 meeting of DCED’s Crude [Oil] Development Advisory Council.

Conventional Compliance Report

On July 30, Gov. Wolf directed the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an evaluation of how it regulates conventional oil and gas wells to prevent new abandoned wells, tighten review of permit transfers, review compliance with environmental safeguards and make recommendations for changes and actions, including criminal sanctions. Read more here.

The evaluation was outlined by Gov. Wolf in a formal statement published in the July 30 PA Bulletin and came in the wake of the Governor allowing House Bill 2644 to become law without his signature.  Read more here.

As of December 1, that report has not been released.

Related Articles This Week:

-- AG Shapiro: Coterra Energy, Formerly Cabot Oil & Gas, Pleads No Contest To 15 Criminal Charges Related To Polluting Water Supplies In Dimock, Susquehanna County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Has Ordered A ‘Top To Bottom Review’ Of How It Regulates Underground Natural Gas Storage Areas As A Result Of The Equitrans Gas Leak In Cambria County In Nov.  [PaEN]

-- DEP Preparing To Plug The Next 198 Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Wells With Federal Funding  [PaEN]

-- EQB Overwhelmingly Approves Emergency Regulation Setting VOC/Methane Limits For Conventional Oil & Gas Facilities; Republicans Vote Against  [PaEN]

-- Dramatic Video From Carnegie Mellon’s Project Breathe Shows Shell Ethane Plant In Beaver County Flaring Natural Gas Due To Malfunction  [PaEN]

-- Natural Resources Defense Council Blog: Rising Cost Of Pennsylvania’s Petrochemical Industry Subsidies - By Mark Szybist

[Posted: December 1, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

EPA Grants Petition By Environmental Coalition To Set New Water Quality Standards For Delaware River Estuary

On December 1, a coalition of environmental groups announced the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has granted a petition to begin the process of promulgating new water quality standards under Section 303(c)(4)(B) of the federal Clean Water Act for the Delaware River estuary.

This decision formally recognizes the need for greater oversight and protection of aquatic life in the Estuary, including the federally endangered and genetically unique Atlantic sturgeon population.

Click Here for a copy of EPA’s response to the petition.

Originally filed in April of 2022 by Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Clean Air Council, Environment New Jersey, PennFuture, and PennEnvironment, the petition urged the federal government to promptly initiate rulemaking necessary to protect aquatic life in the Delaware Estuary. 

The petition claims that the Delaware River Basin Commission and the four watershed states have failed to recognize that the Delaware Estuary, from Trenton to the top of the Delaware Bay, is being used for maintenance and propagation of resident fish and other aquatic life, as well as for spawning and nursery habitat for anadromous fish, including the federally endangered Delaware River Atlantic sturgeon. 

Similarly, the DRBC has failed to take action to institute water quality criteria essential for protecting existing uses by critical species such as the Atlantic sturgeon. 

The DRBC and the four watershed states have been repeatedly and formally urged to recognize these aquatic life uses and  upgrade associated water quality protections, particularly dissolved oxygen standards. 

Until now, these requests have failed to spark the necessary protective actions required under the Clean Water Act to preserve the health of the Estuary.

In the determination, the EPA stated:

“EPA’s evaluation of available information . . . indicates that “propagation of fish” is attainable in the specified zones of the Delaware River Estuary. Additionally, the currently applicable dissolved oxygen criterion for these zones is not sufficient to protect propagation throughout the specified zones.

“Accordingly, EPA is determining, pursuant to [Clean Water Act (CWA)] Section 303(c)(4)(B) and 40 CFR 131.22(b), that: 1) revised aquatic life designated uses that provide for propagation of fish, consistent with CWA Section 101(a)(2) and 40 CFR 131.20(a); and 2) corresponding dissolved oxygen criteria that protect a propagation use, consistent with 40 CFR 131.11, are necessary for zone 3, zone 4, and the upper portion of zone 5 (in total, river miles 108.4 to 70.0) of the Delaware River Estuary, to meet the requirements of the CWA.”

This decision comes on the heels of a rally to save the River’s Atlantic Sturgeon at Philadelphia City Hall, hosted earlier this month by the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and partner organizations: Green Amendments For The Generations, Waterspirit, Saddlers Woods Conservation Association, Food & Water Watch, Clean Water Action, and Brandywine River Restoration Trust. 

The rally called on the DRBC, EPA, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Marine Fisheries Service (also known as NOAA Fisheries) to take accountability for their lack of sturgeon oversight and protection.

“EPA’s decision to grant our petition is powerful and important and may be a last best hope for saving the genetically unique Atlantic Sturgeon of the Delaware River from the lack of oxygen so severely compromising their continued existence,” noted Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper and Leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network. “We have been advocating for decades that our governmental agencies, including the DRBC, have failed to prioritize water quality and river protections essential to save our genetically unique population of Atlantic sturgeon. It is extremely rare that EPA grants a petition of this kind. EPA’s agreement that the DRBC has demonstrated an unwillingness to do the job necessary is both a powerful repudiation of the failed DRBC strategy and an acknowledgement of the perilous status of our Atlantic sturgeon. Many told our coalition not to bother petitioning the federal government, but the sturgeon need champions willing to pursue every path essential to protect them, as do our human communities who depend upon a healthy Delaware River. This victory is a vindication of the power of our dedication.”

“EPA's decision to protect the lower Delaware is a long-awaited victory for Philadelphians and neighboring communities. We look forward to cleaner, safer water for the many residents who enjoy this critical waterway and the wildlife the river supports,” added Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel, Clean Air Council.

“The EPA made the right decision by recognizing that improvements to the lower Delaware River’s water quality supports all stages of aquatic life—not only for sensitive wildlife populations like the Atlantic Sturgeon, but also for our communities that enjoy the river,” stated Jessica O’Neill, Senior Attorney, PennFuture. “By granting our petition, EPA is following both the letter and the spirit of the Clean Water Act to protect and maintain our nation’s waters.”

“The Delaware River is undoubtedly one of the region’s greatest outdoor resources and natural places, and Delaware Valley residents from all walks of life want it protected and restored,” noted David Masur, Executive Director, PennEnvironment. “PennEnvironment applauds the EPA because our nation’s environmental cops are doing whatever it takes to protect this beloved waterway and the wildlife that make the Delaware River their home.”

Click Here for a copy of EPA’s response to rulemaking petition.

Click Here for a copy of EPA’s determination to DRBC, DEP, Others.

To learn more about ongoing efforts to protect the Atlantic Sturgeon, please visit the Save The Atlantic Sturgeon website.

Delaware River Basin Commission Reaction

The Delaware River Basin Commission issued this response to EPA granting the rulemaking petition--

“The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has received a copy of EPA's determination in response to a Petition filed by a group of non-governmental organizations. Staff is reviewing the EPA response with the Commission members and counsel.   

“The Petition sought to bypass ongoing DRBC processes and compel EPA to commence a separate action to revise water quality standards for the protection of aquatic life in a portion of the Delaware River Estuary. 

“Because of the significant progress DRBC has already made – working in close collaboration with EPA and state co-regulators – to update the Estuary aquatic life use standards, the Commission viewed the Petition as unnecessary. (See DRBC letter to EPA, October 2022; pdf) 

“Nevertheless, DRBC respects the Administrator's determination and welcomes EPA's continued engagement with DRBC in this effort.  

“EPA's response commends DRBC and its member state agencies for the significant water quality improvements realized in the Estuary.  

“EPA also recognizes the value of foundational science performed by DRBC, including to demonstrate that propagation throughout the Estuary is attainable, and the commitment by DRBC and the Estuary states to update the standards. 

“EPA acknowledges that the timeline for establishing new standards will be accelerated by the "readily available information that DRBC and other stakeholders have generated." 

“The EPA also makes clear it, "acknowledges and appreciates DRBC's and your states' commitment to updating the WQS for the specified zones of the Delaware River Estuary."

“Priority actions by the DRBC to revise the Estuary water quality standards to meet Clean Water Act goals are well underway. 

“By resolutions adopted unanimously by the Commission's member states and the United States, the Commission has committed substantial resources over several years to establish the scientific foundation and conduct rulemaking for new standards through a transparent and collaborative process. 

“The body of scientific work that DRBC has delivered supports the inclusion of fish propagation (by multiple species, including the endangered Atlantic Sturgeon) as a designated aquatic life use throughout the Estuary. 

“DRBC-led science also has established the foundation for the development of new dissolved oxygen criteria to support this use.

“A summary of DRBC's plan for revising the Estuary water quality standards, along with key technical support documents and procedural records, are available on this webpage

“While EPA's decision has the potential to create a duplicative regulatory process, the DRBC is committed to continuing to work jointly with EPA and state co-regulator agencies in Delaware, New Jersey and Pennsylvania to develop water quality standards using sound science to meet the goals of the Clean Water Act and the Delaware River Basin Comprehensive Plan. 

“DRBC is equally committed to doing so through a transparent process that engages all concerned stakeholders. 

“The Commission has a successful 61-year history of working collaboratively and delivering regulatory policy to protect and significantly improve water quality in the interstate waters of the Delaware River Estuary and is committed to continuing this critical work.”   

Click Here for more information from DRBC on this issue.

[Posted: December 1, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

DEP Preparing To Plug The Next 198 Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Wells With Federal Funding

On December 1, Kurt Klapkowski, Acting DEP Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management, reported the agency is preparing to plug the next 198 abandoned conventional oil and gas wells under the new federal Abandoned Well Plugging Program funded by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

He made the comments to members of DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board at a December 1 meeting.

“We're working right now on an additional nine invitation for bid packages that will allocate around $12 million to plug another 158 additional abandoned and orphaned wells,” said Klapkowski. 

He said those groups of wells are located in Armstrong, Clarion, Forest, McKean, Venango and Washington counties.

“We're also in conversations right now with the Department of Natural Conservation and Natural Resources about plugging around 40 orphaned wells in the Cornplanter State Forest [in Crawford, Forest and Warren counties]. And that we estimate will cost around $2.8 million,” said Klapkowski.

In October, DEP released the first five invitations to bid under the program to plug 79 abandoned conventional oil and gas wells in Allegheny, Butler, McKean and Potter counties.  Read more here.

“We got multiple bids for each of those projects, which I was happy to see. Interestingly, the bids came in overall a little bit lower than we expected," he said.

The average cost per well came in at just over $73,400 for a total cost of $5.8 million. DEP's original estimate for the cost was around $68,000 per well.

These projects will use up about $20.6 million of the first $22.5 million in federal well plugging funds received by DEP.  Plugging projects are being developed to obligate the remainder of the funding.

Over the next 15 years, DEP is expected to receive approximately $395 million from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to plug oil and gas wells abandoned by conventional drillers.  Read more here.

Visit DEP’s Federal Conventional Well Plugging webpage for more information.

New Well Abandonments Accelerating

Meanwhile the pace of new conventional oil and gas well abandonments have been accelerating in 2022.

Through the end of September, DEP issued a total of 322 notices of violation to  conventional operators for abandoning wells without plugging them and 32 NOVs to unconventional shale gas operators for a total of 354 wells.  Read more here.

On November 3, the General Assembly passed and Gov. Wolf signed another bill that failed to address the woefully inadequate conventional oil and gas well bonding program that could help prevent new well abandonments.  Read more here.

Conventional Compliance Report

On July 30, Gov. Wolf directed the Department of Environmental Protection to conduct an evaluation of how it regulates conventional oil and gas wells to prevent new abandoned wells, tighten review of permit transfers, review compliance with environmental safeguards and make recommendations for changes and actions, including criminal sanctions. Read more here.

The evaluation was outlined by Gov. Wolf in a formal statement published in the July 30 PA Bulletin and came in the wake of the Governor allowing House Bill 2644 to become law without his signature.  Read more here.

As of December 1, that report has not been released.

Related Articles:

-- DEP Posts First Invitation For Bids For Plugging 79 Conventional Natural Gas Wells In Allegheny, Butler, McKean, Potter Counties Under Federally-Funded Program  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued NOVs To Conventional Oil & Gas Companies For Abandoning 55 Wells Without Plugging Them During September Alone, A Dramatic Increase In New Well Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- Gov. Wolf Signs Bill Creating Well Plugging Grant Program; Again Fails To Address Woefully Inadequate Conventional Well Plugging Bonding; Fails To Report On Bonding Petitions; Or Issue Conventional Drilling Compliance Report [PaEN]

-- DEP: Wastes Generated By The New Conventional Oil & Gas Well Plugging Program Will NOT Be Exempt From Hazardous Waste Regulations, Unlike Wastes From Active Wells  [PaEN]

-- DEP To Prohibit Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers With Unresolved Environmental Violations From Getting Conventional Well Plugging Contracts; 133 Companies Interested In Doing Well Plugging Work  [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- AG Shapiro: Coterra Energy, Formerly Cabot Oil & Gas, Pleads No Contest To 15 Criminal Charges Related To Polluting Water Supplies In Dimock, Susquehanna County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Has Ordered A ‘Top To Bottom Review’ Of How It Regulates Underground Natural Gas Storage Areas As A Result Of The Equitrans Gas Leak In Cambria County In Nov.  [PaEN]

-- DEP: Schedule For Updating Conventional Oil & Gas Environmental, Waste Regulations Will Be Up To Gov. Shapiro  [PaEN]

-- EQB Overwhelmingly Approves Emergency Regulation Setting VOC/Methane Limits For Conventional Oil & Gas Facilities; Republicans Vote Against  [PaEN]

-- Dramatic Video From Carnegie Mellon’s Project Breathe Shows Shell Ethane Plant In Beaver County Flaring Natural Gas Due To Malfunction  [PaEN]

-- Natural Resources Defense Council Blog: Rising Cost Of Pennsylvania’s Petrochemical Industry Subsidies - By Mark Szybist

[Posted: December 1, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

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