Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Gov. Wolf Vetoes Republican Bill Rolling Back Environmental Protection Standards For Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

On November 25, Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed
Senate Bill 790 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) that would significantly reduce requirements for protecting the environment from conventional oil and gas drilling.

Gov. Wolf said in his veto message-- 

“While this legislation attempts to address the distinct challenges associated with the conventional oil and gas industry, it does so in a manner that does not adequately protect the environment and the public health and safety of the citizens of the Commonwealth, and would contributed to a legacy of environmental degradation.

“The Department of Environmental Protection has repeatedly offered to engage collaboratively with the General Assembly and the regulated community to develop requirements specifically tailored to the conventional oil and gas industry’s operations.

“Unfortunately, instead of seeing that collaborative approach through, this legislation was pursued, which rolls back protections for safe drinking water, weakens protections of public resources, allows more spills to go unreported, and avoids erosion and sediment control permitting requirements.

“This legislation poses an unacceptable risk to the environment and the public health and safety of our citizens.

“At a time when the conventional industry is still incurring violations at three to four times the rate of the unconventional [shale gas] industry, this legislation is completely unacceptable.

“Finally, several provisions in the bill relating to burdens of proof, municipal input, public participation and inadequate authority to regulate and enforce environmental standards run afoul of the Pennsylvania Constitution and, based on precedent, would likely  not withstand judicial scrutiny.

“The substantive issues outline herein only address a fraction of the concerns related to this legislation.”

Click Here for a copy of the veto message.


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.

DEP said in September it plans to move ahead with developing updated regulations covering conventional drilling since “legislative discussions have not resulted in a viable product….”  Read more here.

Over 195 statewide and local environmental groups and over 1,655 citizens have made it clear to legislators they oppose this legislation. Click Here for more.

Gov. Wolf has promised to veto the bill because it contains significant flaws.

The PA Environmental Council and the Environmental Defense Fund outlined their opposition to key provisions in the bill in a May 27 letter to all House members

The concerns included--

-- Water Supplies: Removes requirement drillers must replace water supplies damaged by drilling with one that meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards;

-- Inadequate Bonding: The bill arbitrarily limits bonding and other financial assurance measures increasing the risk of another generation of remediation costs that must be borne by taxpayers;

-- Spill Not Reporting: The bill would not require any reporting of brine spills of any volumen provided they are below 10,000 mg/kg total dissolved solids which can be damaging to land and water resources; and

-- Well Integrity & Plugging: The bill relaxes well integrity, groundwater protection and plugging and remediation standards that run counter to common industry practices already employed in Pennsylvania today.

Click Here for a copy of the letter.


"We are thankful that Gov. Wolf has heeded calls to veto Senate Bill 790, which would have loosened environmental regulations currently governing the conventional oil and gas industry​," said PennFuture President and CEO Jacquelyn Bonomo. "There is no good time to weaken or eliminate rules and regulations that keep us safe from polluters, but a global pandemic is precisely the wrong time. We are hopeful that a new session of the General Assembly will bring about new efforts to protect and conserve our natural resources, and that Gov. Wolf will not have to use his veto power to stop bad bills that are nothing more than gifts to the fossil fuel industry."

Adam Peltz, Senior Environmental Defense Fund Attorney for Energy, said, “We commend Gov. Wolf for vetoing a dangerous bill that would put the health and safety of Pennsylvanians at risk. This sledgehammer of a law would roll back decades of common sense safety and environmental protections, creating scores of unintended consequences.”

Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron), prime sponsor of a similar bill, said, “The industry is struggling immensely, and a significant cause of that struggle is the lack of understanding and purposeful misrepresentation of how our conventional oil and gas operations work in a safe and environmentally conscious manner. There are major differences between unconventional deep-well drilling and conventional, shallow-well drilling…differences that this administration continues to ignore because it doesn’t fit their narrative.”

[Note: The conventional oil and gas industry first used the argument they were going out of business and “struggling immensely” against the 1984 Oil and Gas Act which regulated them for the first time. Obviously, they’re still here and violating state environmental standards nearly twice as many times as unconventional gas drillers.]

Related Articles:

-- DEP Reports Conventional Oil & Gas Wells Had Nearly Twice The Violations Of Shale Gas Wells; DEP To Develop New Conventional Drilling Regs

-- DEP: Conventional Oil & Gas Well Violations More Than Triple Between 2015-2017

[Posted: November 25, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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