Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Haven’t Filed Annual Production/Waste Generation Reports For 61,655 Wells; Attorney General Continues Investigation Of Road Dumping Wastewater

As of February 17, the Department of Environmental Protection reported 4,425 owners of 61,655 conventional oil and gas wells-- 57.5 percent of all conventional wells-- failed to submit their annual production and waste generation and disposal reports.

A total of 520 conventional operators did submit their annual production/waste reports covering 45,614 wells.  A total of 4,945 operators who own 107,269 conventional wells are required to file the reports

The deadline for the reports was February 15.

The production and waste reports are critical to understanding how much wastewater and other waste those wells generated and where it was disposed of.

To put the environmental impact of noncompliance with waste reporting into perspective, in 2017, approximately 44 percent of conventional operators reported generating 93,416,526 gallons of wastewater for disposal or treatment.

Given current compliance numbers, that means an estimated 118 million gallons of conventional wastewater or more has not been accounted for in the annual waste reports. 

Where did it go?

[Note: Unconventional shale gas drillers are required to report production, waste general and disposal monthly.]

Improving conventional production, waste and mechanical integrity reporting was a topic of discussion at the February 16 DCED PA Grade Crude [Oil] Development Advisory Council meeting.

The Council also discussed the Conventional Oil and Gas Industry Compliance Report issued by DEP in December.  It covered violations from 2017 through 2021.

That report found--

-- Abandoning oil and gas wells most frequent violation, noting conventional operators were issued 3,123 notices of violation for the practice during the five years reviewed.  DEP said at the Council meeting 2,246 conventional wells were abandoned by their operators after receiving one or more of the 3,123 notices of violation;

-- Huge gaps exist in reporting waste generated by conventional wells: Over 56 percent of conventional well operators fail to report the amount of waste they generate and how it is disposed of.

-- Failure to report mechanical integrity of wells by over 59 percent of conventional well operators means they are not making sure their oil and gas wells are not leaking fluids into groundwater or surface water or natural gas into the air or operating their wells safely.

Overall, DEP’s report concluded, “A significant change in the culture of non-compliance as an acceptable norm in the conventional oil and gas industry will need to occur before meaningful improvement can happen.”

“This record of non-compliance will require DEP to further develop and refine its techniques for deterring violations and encouraging compliance with relevant statutory and regulatory provisions.” 

At the Council meeting, Arthur Stewart from Cameron Energy expressed a concern that many of the conventional operators are not reporting because they are “dead.”

“We think most of those folks are dead.  They're never going to report,” said Stewart.  “And it just continually looks bad because they are not going to report from the grave. So let’s get that cleaned up.”

DEP responded by reporting only six operators with six wells are included in its database as out of business or deceased operators that are required to file reports.

Conventional oil and gas operators are required by regulation to report changes to the responsible operator or ownership of all well permits.

Other industry observers say, as a practical matter, active wells still producing would have been taken over by other operators because economic value like that typically isn’t just left laying around.  Someone is working those wells and benefitting from them and may have “forgotten” to notify DEP as required.

Those wells don’t simply disappear.

Formal Industry Response

On February 22, the PA Independent Oil & Gas Association released a formal response to the report, but did not dispute the fundamental conclusions in the report.  Read more here.

Overall View

Kurt Klapkowski, DEP Deputy for Oil and Gas Management said, “I think this report shows there have been some issues.  Production reporting is a significant issue.  The Secretary [of DEP] and the Governor are committed to working with operators to try to get the good work done.”

Click Here for more from the December DEP Conventional Oil and Gas Compliance Report.

The Council also heard comments about these issues--

-- Concerns With New Well Plugging Program: Laurie Barr and Barbara Laxon of Bradford County offered comments before the Council during the public comment period expressing concerns about why DEP did not plug any abandoned conventional oil and gas wells in Bradford County that are leaking methane and causing a hazard in the community using new funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

On February 21, the Better Path Coalition hosted a webinar to review these concerns with Laurie Barr of Save Our Streams PA.  Read more here.

-- AG’s Drilling Wastewater Investigation: Josh Lauderman from GCI Water Solutions in Titusville reported to the Council that agents from the Environmental Crimes Section of the Office of Attorney General subpoena records related to road dumping of oil and gas wastewater for dust suppression.  He said it wasn’t clear whether he is a target of the investigation or purely a witness.  The Council voted to send a letter to the Attorney General asking for the status of the investigation related to GCI.

PA DEP Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Feb. 18 to 24; First Violations Noted At New Well Plugging Sites [PaEN] 

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - Feb. 25  [PaEN]

-- DEP Posts 47 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In Feb. 25 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Compliance Reports

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industry Has Record Year: Cost, Criminal Convictions Up; $3.1 Million In Penalties Collected; Record Number Of Violations Issued; Major Compliance Issues Uncovered; Evidence Of Health Impacts Mounts  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued 754 Notices Of Violation For Defective Oil & Gas Well Casing, Cementing, The Fundamental Protection Needed To Prevent Gas Migration, Groundwater & Air Contamination, Explosions  [PaEN]

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Industrial Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight [PaEN]

Related Articles This Week:

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Haven’t Filed Annual Production/Waste Generation Reports For 61,655 Wells; Attorney General Continues Investigation Of Road Dumping Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- Senate Committee Meets Feb. 27 On Decommissioning Solar Energy Facilities, Limiting 1 Use Of PFAS Chemicals, Resolution Calling For Restart Of Keystone XL Pipeline  [PaEN] 

-- Guest Essay: Forestal Or Foresee - The Energy Transition And The Pennsylvania Legislature - By Ralph Kisberg, Responsible Drilling Alliance, Lycoming County   [PaEN]  

-- Scranton Times Editorial: Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells, Abandoned Responsibility  [PaEN]

-- DEP Air Quality Committee To Hear Presentation On Methane Emissions Monitoring Overflight Study Of 91 Oil & Gas Facilities, Coal Mines, Landfills On March 9 [PaEN]

-- PA Supreme Court Sides With Citizens, Landowner Not Sunoco Pipeline On Reimbursing Legal Costs For Lawsuits Won By Citizens  [PaEN]

[Posted: February 22, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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