Sunday, June 28, 2015

House Committee Votes To Kill Regulations Covering Conventional Oil and Gas Wells And Start Over

In the House Appropriations Committee late Sunday night, Republicans  adopted an amendment to the Fiscal Code in Senate Bill 655 (Browne-R-Lehigh) that invalidates the regulations DEP proposed to ensure conventional oil and gas wells protect the environment and makes DEP start the process over.
The language in the amendment said the process used by DEP to propose the regulations was “invalid” with respect to conventional wells, but the language could be interpreted to also apply to unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells since they both used the same process stopping that process as well.
The same tactic-- amending the Fiscal Code-- was used last year by conventional well drillers to direct DEP to adopt separate regulations for conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) wells.
The Fiscal Code has been a convenient vehicle used by the Senate and House to adopt laws that do not go through any committees, not subjected to public hearings and are not voted on by either chamber.  
In fact, the language and concept of killing regulations for conventional well drillers added to Senate Bill 655 didn’t even not appear in any Senate or House bill before it suddenly appeared Sunday night.
Last week, PA Independent Oil and Gas Association filed a lawsuit challenging DEP’s regulations saying “natural gas developers protect public resources through voluntary measures” and other environmental law.  
PIOGA ask the PA Supreme Court to eliminate DEP’s enforcement of setbacks from streams, wetlands and other natural features as well as protection of public resources like parks, game land or wildlife area, protect endangered species, historic sites and wellhead protection areas.
The conventional well drillers try, at every opportunity, to perpetuate the myth that conventional drill is “benign” and doesn’t affect the environment.
In fact, in 2014, conventional oil and gas well operations accounted for nearly 78 percent of the total violations DEP recorded for conventional and unconventional drilling operations, but just over 52 percent of the inspections.
DEP also has a running list of 248 cases where DEP has made a determination on whether water supplies were contaminated by oil and natural gas drill from 2008 to 2014.  About half of the water supplies were damaged by conventional drilling and half by unconventional, according to DEP.
Of the 19 special caution areas with poisonous hydrogen sulfide dangers DEP has identified and dealt with over the last few years, 14 were from conventional wells.
DEP began the process of proposing oil and gas regulations in response to the passage of Act 13 in 2013, nearly two and a half years ago.  DEP held an unprecedented 12 public hearings on the proposals as well as lengthy public comment periods.
A copy of the amendment is available online.
Senate Bill 655 now goes to the full House for action, and if successful, must be concurred in by the Senate.

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