Friday, September 21, 2018

Bill To Weaken Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling Standards On Senate Environmental Committee Agenda For Sept. 25

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee has scheduled an off-the-floor meeting September 25 to consider House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Cameron), which would weaken environmental standards for conventional oil and gas drilling.
The notice indicates there may be a possible amendment to the bill.
Also on the agenda is Senate Resolution 214 (Greenleaf-R-Montgomery) urging Pennsylvania natural gas producers to export gas to European countries in an effort to curtail the monopoly that Russia has on supply to that region (sponsor summary).
Background On Conventional Drilling Bill
Gov. Wolf and environmental groups have opposed House Bill 2154 as a wholesale weakening of environmental standards applied to conventional oil and gas drilling.  In fact, the bill is based on the original 1984 Oil and Gas Act.
It is interesting to note DEP reported at the end of August that the number of conventional oil and gas well violations of existing requirements more than tripled between 2015 and 2017 from 1,024 to 3,273 last year.  Click Here for more.
Prior to House passing the bill in June by a party-line vote (Republicans supporting), the  Governor’s Secretary of Legislative Affairs William C. Danowski, Jr. wrote to all members of the House Tuesday saying--
“I write to make it emphatically clear that the Administration, including the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is strongly opposed to House Bill 2154, Printer’s Number 3477.
“We have collectively engaged, through DEP and the Department of Community and Economic Development (DCED), in what we thought to be productive conversations at the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council (CDAC) over the past year.  
“We believe that those efforts were headed toward development of a bill that we could support.  However, House Bill 2154, PN 3477 is not it.
“This bill is bad for the environment.  For example, the legislation allows for up to 210 gallons of crude oil or 630 gallons of brine, to be spilled without having to be reported.
“It also relaxes casing and cementing requirement, which significantly increases the risk of water contamination, and would relax water restoration or replacement standards where a well operator affects a public or private water supply.
“Additionally, the legislation encourages the proliferation of methane by allowing wells to remain in active status (i.e. uncapped) if equipment is left on site.
“This bill is also bad for landowners.  It would remove the requirement to notify landowners 24 hours in advance of drilling and would eliminate the requirement for operators to obtain and post a well permit prior to commencing site construction, while affording landowners only 15 days to raise objections to a proposed well location.
“Further, the bill would prevent local municipalities from making reasonable zoning decisions, a right which was upheld by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in the Robinson Township decision.
“These are merely a few examples of major concerns with the legislation that cannot be resolved through piecemeal attempts to amend.  
“The Administration acknowledges that the conventional industry is facing particular challenges and is in need of a legislative solution.  However, the bill in its current form is unworkable, and a new product needs to be crafted.
“We were sincere in our offer to return to CDAC to work toward a collaborative product, and that offer still stands.
“However, the Administration strongly opposes House Bill 2154, PN 3477, and would ask for a negative vote should this bill run on final passage.”
Click Here for a copy of the letter.
DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell wrote to members of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee expressing similar concerns saying, in part, “As written, the bill presents environmental and public health risks and loosens current environmental protections to the point, in some cases, of nullification.”
The PA Environmental Council, Environmental Defense Fund wrote to all members of the House calling the bill a wholesale weakening of necessary environmental protection standards for conventional oil and gas drilling.
Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), prime sponsor of the bill said, “The conventional oil and gas industry has long been a cornerstone of the economy in my district and areas across the northern tier, providing thousands of good, family-sustaining jobs.
“This bill will help preserve those jobs by removing the threat of unreasonable and unnecessary regulations from the backs of our conventional producers in favor of rules that are relevant and appropriate to these shallow well operations.
“The lack of understanding by many bureaucrats about the vast differences between the types of drilling has really put our conventional operators at risk.
“It is extremely frustrating, especially given the good stewardship long practiced by conventional producers. They live in the communities where their wells are located, breathing the same air and drinking the same water as everyone else. They clearly have a vested interest in doing things right.”
[Note: From 1859 to 1984, the conventional oil and gas drilling industry drilled as many as 760,000 wells and left an estimated 560,000 wells unaccounted for and likely not plugged to modern standards, abandoned or orphaned in its wake before the first modern environmental well plugging requirements were adopted in 1984-- 125 years later and opposed bitterly at the time by conventional drillers.  Click Here to learn more about abandoned wells.]
The Committee meeting will be an “off-the-floor” meeting in the Rules Committee Room.  Off-the-floor means there is no set time for the meeting so it could be held at any time after the Senate breaks from session on September 25.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming) serves as Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-3280 or sending email to:   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to:
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