Monday, April 30, 2018

PEC, EDF: House Bill 2154 Is A Wholesale Weakening Of Necessary Environmental Standards For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

The PA Environmental Council and Environmental Defense Fund Monday wrote to all members of the House urging them to oppose House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Forest) as a wholesale weakening of necessary environmental protection standards for conventional oil and gas drilling.
"It is our position that common-sense, practical solutions exist to address the concerns of small company operators. However, House Bill 2154 is a wholesale unraveling of protections that were established with the bipartisan enactment of Act 13 of 2012.
"In fact, this legislation would result in a law even weaker than the 1984 Oil and Gas Act in several important respects."
The coal industry is also very concerned about House Bill 2154 because the provision on the coordination of gas drilling in areas of underground coal mining are inadequate in their view.
The text of the PEC/EDF letter follows--
Dear Representatives:
The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) respectfully submit the following comments on House Bill 2154 (P.N. 3187), which we anticipate will come before the House on second consideration for a vote this week.
At the start, we wish to express our deep concern over the stated intent for this legislation. It is our position that common-sense, practical solutions exist to address the concerns of small company operators.
However, House Bill 2154 is a wholesale unraveling of protections that were established with the bipartisan enactment of Act 13 of 2012. In fact, this legislation would result in a law even weaker than the 1984 Oil and Gas Act in several important respects.
Said simply, characterizing House Bill 2154 as a credible plan to protect small businesses and cut methane emissions from abandoned wells is an obfuscation of the true design of the bill.
If this legislation were to pass, Pennsylvania would have the discreditable distinction of being the only state to significantly reduce environmental protection related to oil and gas development in the modern era, walking back decades-old protections and operating standards that are accepted by both the industry at large and other oil and gas producing states.
House Bill 2154 is Not Based on Actual Risk Assessment
Any potential divergence in protection standards must be based on objective risk assessment, and consider actual practices and technologies employed at a well site.
Under Act 13 of 2012, and as defined in House Bill 2154, the fundamental distinction between “conventional” and “unconventional” operations is one based on depth of drilling.
This distinction fails to account for what scale or type of operations are actually happening at the well site – “conventional” wells can be drilled horizontally and hydraulically fractured at much shallower formations in closer proximity to groundwater, a fact that House Bill 2154 expressly acknowledges.
As a starting point, any proposal that seeks to create separate rules must be narrowly tailored to the technologies and practices being used. House Bill 2154 does not accomplish this, and would only create new problems by relaxing or removing standards irrespective of what is actually occurring at the well site.
House Bill 2154 Weakens or Removes Fundamental Environmental and Health Protections
Compared to existing and even prior law, some of the most significant changes in House Bill 2154 include:
-- Complete removal of the requirement to analyze potential impacts to Public Resources. This requirement was established in the 1984 law, expanded by Act 13, and validated by the Pennsylvania courts.
-- Complete removal of the requirement for operators to disclose chemicals used in fracturing. Disclosure – for both conventional and unconventional operators – is currently required practice in Pennsylvania as well as in virtually all other jurisdictions in the United States.
-- Removing containment, as well as spill and leak prevention and reporting provisions, despite the documented fact that conventional sites present threats similar to unconventional operations.
-- Exempting certain existing wastewater treatment facilities from state water protection requirements [Section 904(h) of the legislation, page 64].
-- Weakening protections for impacted drinking water supplies, including failure to ensure that, in all instances, replacement supplies meet the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act. [Section 308(a) of the legislation, page 29].
-- Weakening well integrity standards that are critical for groundwater protection [Section 307 of the legislation, page 27].
-- Preserving woefully inadequate bonding and other financial assurance requirements, which threaten to leave Pennsylvania on the hook for costly remediation work in the decades to come. An operator is only required to provide a blanket bond of $25,000 no matter how many wells they are operating. Remediation costs for an individual well can exceed this amount. While House Bill 2154 allows, after a five period, for adjustment of this amount via rulemaking, it caps any increase to no more than $10,000 from the prior amount. [Section 315 of the legislation, page 44].
Orphaned Wells; Methane Emissions
Supporters of House Bill 2154 have touted provisions in the legislation for plugging of orphaned and abandoned wells. Conventional operators have commendably taken the initiative to begin to address this issue – and deserve incentive and support from the state.
But it is important to recognize that House Bill 2154 provides extraordinary limited advancement for these efforts.
The Commonwealth needs a comprehensive strategy to address its legacy issues, one that looks to a full suite of initiatives – everything from good Samaritan protections to new and meaningful funding for innovative and collaborative efforts.
House Bill 2154 does not provide that foundation. In fact, the legislation’s across the board rollback of protection standards is likely to increase the problem in the years to come.
House Bill 2154 is a wholesale weakening of necessary protection standards; standards that are already the law in Pennsylvania, and that are accepted common practice in the industry and other oil and gas producing states.  We strongly urge you to oppose this bill.
Thank you for your consideration.
Director, Regulatory and Legislative Affairs, U.S. Climate and Energy
Environmental Defense Fund
Senior Vice President, Legal & Government Affairs
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
The House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee Monday approved and reported out House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Forest), the Conventional Oil and Gas Act, to regulate conventional drilling operations based on the original 1984 Oil and Gas Act.  Republicans voted for the bill, Democrats against.
The bill is scheduled for action by the full House Tuesday and is expected to move quickly.
House Bill 2154 is identical to Senate Bill 1880 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) pending in the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Visit PEC’s Audio Room for the latest podcasts.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.
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