Friday, February 24, 2023

Scranton Times Editorial: Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells, Abandoned Responsibility

This editorial first appeared in the
Scranton Times on February 24, 2023--

Many state lawmakers long ago abandoned their constitutional duty to preserve the environment by instead representing the natural gas industry.

Now, a report by the state Department of Environmental Protection reflects that legislative malpractice. 

The DEP found that, from 2017 through 2021, more than half of owners of “conventional” gas wells failed to report how much gas they extracted and that operators abandoned, without plugging, more than 3,000 methane-spewing wells.

Conventional wells are not those across the Marcellus Shale fields. Marcellus Shale wells are deep and partially horizontal. Conventional wells are relatively shallow and vertical.

Many state lawmakers long have coddled the conventional drillers, who tend to be small local companies. 

They have refused to apply the same set of regulations to the Marcellus and conventional drillers, and then have declined to provide the DEP with the necessary resources to aggressively enforce separate sets of regulations.

The DEP, over the period covered by the report, conducted more than 63,000 conventional well inspections and reported more than 16,000 violations at 4,000 wells. 

The most common violation was well abandonment, but other common violations included unpermitted waste disposal and drilling fluid spills on the ground or into waterways.

When a company fails to plug a well, the responsibility falls to the DEP — taxpayers — at a cost of about $30,000 a well. 

Drillers must post a bond of just $2,500 to qualify for drilling permit for a well, or just $25,000 to cover multiple wells. That provides an incentive for abandonment rather than obeying the law.

The 3,000 newly abandoned wells add to the existing inventory of about 200,000 unplugged conventional wells statewide.

Former Gov. Tom Wolf ordered the study in 2022 after he disagreed with a bill maintaining separate regulations for deep and conventional wells, which later became law without his signature..

His successor, Gov. Josh Shapiro, increased enforcement when he was attorney general and campaigned on the issue. 

Now, he should not waste the opportunity to make sure that responsibility for pollution-spewing abandoned wells rests with operators rather than taxpayers.

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

-- 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]

-- 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]

-- 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]

-- 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 24, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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