Saturday, April 15, 2023

DEP/Equitrans Settlement: DEP, Preempted By Federal Law, Withdraws Order, Closes NOVs Against Equitrans For Cambria County Natural Gas Storage Leak Releasing 1 Billion Cubic Feet Of Natural Gas

On April 13, the Department of Environmental Protection and Equitrans
filed a settlement with the Environmental Hearing Board resulting in the withdrawal of DEP’s December enforcement order against Equitrans to correct violations at the Rager Mountain Underground Natural Gas Storage area related to the release of an estimated 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas that was visible from space.

In addition, notices of violation issued based on the November release are to be administratively closed, however, DEP is not precluded from “taking any action, including one based on the observation made, information gathered or violations noticed in NOVs” issued as a result of the release.

On April 14 the Environmental Hearing Board issued an order based on the settlement to terminate the Equitrans appeal without prejudice.

Equitrans appealed DEP’s actions because it said the Rager Mountain facility was an interstate facility regulated by the U.S. DOT Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration and states were preempted from “prescribing and/or enforcing safety standards and practices for interstate natural gas pipeline or storage facilities” by federal law.

DEP said in the settlement its decision to issue an enforcement order was based on its understanding the facility was an intrastate facility.

In December, DEP issued orders to Equitrans to plug several of the 12 conventional wells accessing the storage area and upgrade other wells to modern well casing and cementing standards. Read more here.

The orders required Equitrans to--

-- Monitor all storage wells in the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir and surrounding soil for gas migration;

-- Mitigate and/or control gases coming or migrating from the storage wells;

-- Conduct mechanical integrity testing of each wells in the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir;

-- Submit a plan to recondition or plug wells that are not cased and cemented according to current Pennsylvania regulations;

-- Conduct a third-party audit of all storage wells, observation wells, and storage fields owned and/or operated by Equitrans in Pennsylvania;

-- Cease injection of natural gas into the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir until the audit has been completed and injection approved by DEP; and

-- Provide DEP with a plan and schedule to withdraw gas from the Rager Mountain Gas Storage Reservoir in the event that withdrawal becomes necessary in the future for DEP review.

In the settlement with DEP, Equitrans said it would--

-- Provide DEP with copies of any final documentation or submissions it makes to PHMSA related to the “unintentional” venting of natural gas, including a root cause analysis or mechanical integrity evaluations;

-- Equitrans will consider any comments DEP has on the documentation;

-- Equitrans will provide DEP with a copy of the final Safety Order it will negotiate with PHMSA;

-- Equitrans will continue to take natural gas readings from the wells serving the Rager Facility and provide them to DEP weekly as well as weekly updates on its work and investigations;

-- Equitrans will provide other reports and information on the wells and the facility as required by the state Oil and Gas Act (Act 13).

Click Here for a copy of the settlement agreement.

Click Here to read the Equitrans appeal.  

Click Here for documents related to the appeal.

Precedent For Future

This settlement sets a clearer precedent for how DEP regulates underground natural gas storage fields which means Pennsylvanians will have to largely rely on federal law and the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration to take effective action to prevent leaks like this and follow up enforcement action.

Pennsylvania has 48 active underground natural gas storage fields in 26 counties, most in the western half of the state.

The majority of the fields are contained within depleted hydrocarbon reservoirs (host rocks, typically sandstones, in which the economic oil and/or natural gas has been removed). As such, these locations coincide with historical oil and gas production, which is predominantly in the western half of Pennsylvania.

Wells serving these fields are regulated as conventional oil and gas wells by DEP.

These fields have been regulated since 1955 by state law and most recently by specific provisions in the 2012 Oil and Gas Act (Act 13) and state regulations to avoid conflicts with underground coal mining.

Click Here for a DEP factsheet on natural gas storage fields.

(Photo: View of Rager Mountain natural gas leak from space, courtesy of Environmental Defense Fund.)


-- Post-Gazette - Anya Litvak: After Massive Equitrans Underground Natural Gas Storage Area Leak Alarmed DEP, The Agency Is Still Finding Its Role In The Response 

-- Tribune-Democrat: DEP Reaches Deal With Equitrans On Underground Natural Gas Storage Area Order

-- The Express: Developer Backs Out Of Renovo Energy Plant Project

-- PennLive: Environmentalists Win, Company Drops Plans For $1 Billion Natural Gas-Fired Renovo Power Plant

-- The Express: End Of Renovo Power Plant A ‘Crucial Win’ For Residents, Opposing Agencies Say

Related Articles:

-- DEP Issues Orders To Equitrans To Plug Additional Wells At Cambria County Underground Natural Gas Storage Facility, Bring Other Wells Up To Current Casing Standards And Take Other Actions  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Has Ordered A ‘Top To Bottom Review’ Of How It Regulates Underground Natural Gas Storage Areas As A Result Of The Equitrans Gas Leak In Cambria County In Nov.  [PaEN] 

-- UPDATED: After 14 Days, Efforts To Stop A Natural Gas Leak At A Cambria County Underground Gas Storage Area Have Apparently Been Successful  [PaEN] 

PA Oil & Gas Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - April 8 to 14; Shale Gas Drillers Create New Brownfields, 8 Wells Found With Defective Casing/Cementing  [PaEN]  

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - April 15  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posts 68 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In April 15 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]   

Related Articles This Week:

-- Inside Climate News: Gov. Shapiro Provides Fresh Support To Key Changes Recommended In 2020 Grand Jury Report To Tighten Regulation Of The Natural Gas Drilling Industry To Better Protect Public Health, Environment  [PaEN]

-- Natural Gas Pipeline Pigging Facility Malfunction Dec. 27 Released 1.1 Million Cubic Feet Of Natural Gas; Same Facility Plagued Community With Blowdowns 3 Times A Day, 7 Days A Week For Nearly 10 Years Until Criminal Charges Brought Against CNX [PaEN] 

-- How Chesapeake Appalachia Created Another New Shale Gas Brownfield In Bradford County; Timberline Energy Plugs Its Abandoned Conventional Gas Wells In Venango County  [PaEN] 

-- Independent Regulatory Review Commission Meets April 20 On Final Emergency Regs Setting VOC/Methane Emission Limits On Conventional Oil/Gas Operations  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issues Three More Air Quality Violations To Shell Petrochemical Plant In Beaver County Related To Emergency Flaring, Exceeding 12-Month Air Pollution Limits  [PaEN]

-- The Express: Bechtel Corp Announced It Will Discontinue Development Of The 1,000 MW Natural Gas-Fired Renovo Energy Center In Clinton County  [PaEN]  

[Posted: April 15, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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