Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Senate Environmental Committee Reports Bill To Legalize Road Dumping Of Conventional Drilling Wastewater With Little Discussion, Only 3 Negative Votes

On September 24, the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) which sets environmental protection standards for conventional (not Shale gas) oil and gas well drilling and legalizes the road dumping of drilling wastewater from conventional wells.
There was no discussion of road dumping or any specific issues at the short meeting.
There were only 3 negative votes-- Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Committee, Sen. Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia) and Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery).
The Committee unanimously voted to report out House Bill 374 (Everett-R- Lycoming) to create the Keystone Tree Fund to create a vehicle and driver license checkoff to provide funding for DCNR’s tree planting programs was reported out unanimously.
Senate Bill 790
Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) noted DEP as well as the PA Environmental Council  and Environmental Defense Fund expressed concerns about the bill and urged a no vote.  He said while there has been progress made on the issues involved, they were not finished yet.
The PA Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Fund outlined their opposition to key provisions in the bill in a September 19 letter to Committee staff.  The concerns included--
-- Excluding any well that uses fracking as a conventional well from the bill;
-- Oppose blanket bonds to insure wells are properly plugged covering an unlimited number of conventional wells and recommended an increase in bonding amounts;
-- Requirements for plugging a well need to be clear and should not allow a continuous flow of water out of a well;
-- Requirements for mechanical integrity and surface casing should apply to all wells;
-- The provisions related to bonding and plugging wells involved in permit transfers to a new owner are inadequate;
-- There should be specific provisions for operation and remediation of orphan wells;
-- Well location restrictions and setbacks from areas that flood in particular need to be updated and revised, including the protection of public resources;
-- The bill must ensure when water supplies affected by conventional drilling are replaced they must, at a minimum, meet safe drinking water standards; and
-- Spill reporting provisions are inadequate.
Senate Bill 790 was introduced as a follow up to action by the General Assembly to kill DEP’s final updated conventional drilling regulations in 2016 because the industry thought they were too strict.
The law then created the PA Grade Crude Development Advisory Council, made up of all industry-related individuals, that was supposed to “advise” DEP on development a new update to the conventional drilling regulations, but so far no draft regulations have been discussed by the Council since it was created in 2016.
The bill is a companion to House Bill 1635 (Causer-R-Cameron) also introduced in June.  The language in House Bill 1635 passed the House last session as House Bill 2154, moved to the Senate and reported out of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee and was awaiting action on the Senate Calendar when the session ended.
Senate Bill 790 has different provisions than House Bill 1635 which turns back the clock of environmental regulation of conventional wells all the way back to 1984.  Click Here for more background.
House Bill 374 and Senate Bill 790 now move to the full Senate for action.
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: gyaw@pasen.gov.   Sen. John Yudichak (D-Luzerne) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7105 or sending email to: yudichak@pasenate.com.
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