Thursday, December 1, 2011

Analysis: What We Stand To Lose If There's No Final Action On A Marcellus Shale Bill

While the size and shape of a drilling fee has gotten most of the attention in pending Marcellus Shale legislation, the other half of the bills are just as important-- additional protections for our water supplies and streams and valuable new enforcement tools.
Without final action on a comprehensive Marcellus Shale bill that includes both a responsible drilling fee and strong environmental protection measures by the end of this year, water supplies and streams continue to be vulnerable to impacts from drilling and needed environmental programs like Growing Greener will all but die.
Here's what we stand to lose without action (based on Senate Bill 1100)--
-- Increases notification requirements from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet for unconventional wells;
-- Requires notification for any municipality within 3,000 feet of the proposed unconventional well;
-- Requires DEP to notify a public drinking water system of any spill the department investigated that may affect their water supply.
Well Location Restrictions
-- Increases the setback distance from an unconventional well and an existing building or existing water well from 200 feet to 500 feet;
-- Increases the setback distance from an unconventional well and a spring or body of water identified on the most current 7 ½ minute topographic map from 100 feet to 300 feet;
-- Restricts an unconventional well from being located within 1,000 feet of a public water supply source as defined in the Safe Drinking Water Act;
-- The department may establish additional protective measures for the storage of hazardous chemicals or materials intended to be used on the well drilling site within 500 feet of any stream, spring, body of water or wetland.
-- Increases the distance an operator drilling an unconventional well is presumed responsible for pollution of a water supply from 1,000 feet to 3,000 feet if pollution occurred within 12 months after stimulation or alteration of the well
-- Requires well pad sites to be designed and constructed to prevent spills to the ground surface or spills off the well pad area;
-- All buried metallic structures must have corrosion protection measures.
Denial of Permits
-- The department may further deny a permit if the operator:
-- Is in continuing violation and the likely result of the violation is an unsafe operation or environmental damage;
-- Does not have a reasonable plan to reuse the water that will be used to hydraulically fracture the well;
-- The department shall consider and may deny or condition a well permit based on the impacts to sources used for public drinking water supplies, and whether the proposed well location is within a floodplain.
Other Provisions
Increased well bonding and penalties; Additional emergency response procedures for well sites; Disclosure of tracking fluid constituents; Provisions coordinating between oil and gas drilling and coal mining; and Cradle to grave tracking of drilling wastewater.

Of course, this is not an argument for enactment of just any old bill. The PA Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation have made a list of recommendations to strengthen these environmental protection provisions.
The Senate and House have now each passed a Marcellus Shale bill. The Governor has made his own proposals.
Perhaps they think they've done their job or that their votes so far provide them with enough political cover to squeak by. But they'd be wrong.
Not acting on a comprehensive Marcellus Shale bill in December means moving the debate into an election year where Republicans and Democrats will toss Marcellus Shale back and forth like a football trying to score political points in the media without actually getting anything done.
Meanwhile, Marcellus wells continue to be drilled at an increasing rate.
In the first 10 months of 2011, there were 1,600 new Marcellus Shale wells drilled and a total of 2,882 new permits issued. In all of 2010 there were 1,386 Marcellus wells drilled and 3,314 permits issued and in 2009 there were 763 wells drilled and 1,984 permits issued.
The question is, can our water supplies and streams really go another year without these protections and in the face of increasing Marcellus Shale drilling activity?
We should have the answer shortly.

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