Wednesday, June 21, 2023

Senate Environmental Committee Reports Out Bills Letting Polluters Decide When To Report Spills And CO2 Injection Well Primacy By Party-Line Votes

On June 21, Republicans on the
Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out legislation redefining a spill and allowing polluters to decide when a spill is harmful enough to report to DEP.

The Committee also reported out a bill directing the state to apply for primary authority to regulate Class VI carbon dioxide underground injection wells from the U.S. EPA [they already did].

Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Committee, also announced there will be a hearing next week on the Governor’s nomination of Richard Negrin to be Secretary of DEP and another meeting voting on bills.

June 28 is the last day for Senate action on the nomination.

The legislation reported out by Republicans includes-

-- Redefining Spills: Senate Bill 286 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) would redefine when a spill needs to be reported by letting the polluter decide when to notify DEP taking into account control and remedial measures, whether the discharge will harm receiving waters or public health.  [The current standard is if you spill something within reportable quantities you report it-- simple.]  

The bill was introduced at the request of Merck Sharp & Dohme Corporation which was unhappy with an April 17, 2017 settlement with DEP over an appeal of a stormwater pollution prevention permit for its West Point, Montgomery County plant (Environmental Hearing Board Docket No. 2015-011-L).

Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Committee, said she was voting no on the bill because “This is essentially the same issue that we dealt with last session in Senate Bill 545 and House Bill 1842. 

“DEPs reporting requirements are in place to protect our environment and to protect the public. They are not meant to be convenient for polluters to get around. 

“Respectfully, redefining when a spill needs to be reported by letting the polluter decide is a recipe for trouble. Weakening these requirements puts us all at risk. 

“Instead, we should be strengthening the laws and enhancing DEP resources and enforcement, not making it easier for polluters to look the other way.”

Environmental groups, county conservation districts and many others oppose the bill and has been introduced several times in previous sessions.  Read more here.

The bill was reported out by a party-line vote, Republicans supporting.

[Note: DEP is developing a new Technical Guidance document on spill reporting to make spill and discharge reporting requirements crystal clear.  The public comment period on the draft closed on December 15, 2021 and DEP hopes to finalize the document in the third quarter of this year.  Document: 383-4200-003.]

-- CO2 Injection Wells: Senate Bill 831 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) would direct the state to apply for primary authority to regulate Class VI carbon dioxide underground injection wells from the U.S. EPA.

DEP submitted a notice of intent to apply for injection well primacy to EPA in April  Read more here.

Sen. Comitta said the legislation is a start at establishing parameters for how carbon capture can be employed, but it is incomplete.

“I hope that we can continue working on this and include some of the additional factors that from my understanding will be required by the federal government in order to receive primacy for DEP dollars for this work and so on. 

“So let me just share a couple of additional thoughts.

“I have concerns about DEP's current ability to regulate carbon dioxide underground injection wells. It is a substantial job and DEP must be fully funded and staffed to handle the additional capacity. 

“Not that they can't do it. They need enough people in order to do it and to do it properly. 

“This legislation, in addition, lacks protections for environmental justice communities. Residents, families, and workers in those communities deserve strong protections as we move toward decarbonization. 

“And as I mentioned, every federal funding program that relates to carbon capture, hydrogen hubs and so on, includes a strong attention to environmental justice communities and the people who live there. 

“So we need to work on incorporating that into this bill language.

“Another provision that we have heard underscored as extremely important in previous hearings, geological studies of injection well sites are necessary for public and environmental safety. 

“And that is not included yet in this bill as it's currently written. 

“We heard in another hearing that the [Committee] has held that DCNR has a core samples library, they got funding in the last budget to expand that. And it was discussed in that hearing how important it is to make sure that where the injection sites are cited, there is suitable geological presence. 

“So CCUS [carbon capture, utilization and storage], we are learning, needs to be part of a decarbonization strategy, but it has to be done wisely, judiciously, and effectively from environmental, economic sustainability, environmental justice, public health and safety standpoints. 

“So I will be voting no, but I do look forward to working with Senator Yaw and my colleagues on exploring ways that we can make this bill more complete.”

Sen. Katie Muth (D-Chester) noted pipelines in Pennsylvania are not required to have insurance or financial assurances to pay for deaths or property damage by explosions or other malfunctions on the pipeline.  Read more here.

Sen. Yaw confirmed Senate Bill 831 does not include any siting or other requirements that are different than those that cover pipelines now.

Environmental groups have expressed concerns about DEP’s capacity to regulate injection wells.  Read more here.  

The PA Environmental Council said carbon capture should be part of a comprehensive decarbonization strategy responsibly deployed.  Read more here.

The bill was reported out by a party-line vote, Republicans supporting.

The two bills reported out now go to the full Senate for action.

The Committee did not take action on Senate Bill 832 (Yaw-R-Lycoming) that would establish the Independent Energy Information Office to provide “impartial, timely and data driven analysis to guide the state in determining and meeting future energy needs”  modeled on the current Independent Fiscal Office.

Sen. Yaw said the Committee will consider an amendment to the bill next week.

Click Here to watch a video of the meeting [when available].

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:   Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5709 or sending email to:


-- Marcellus Drilling News: Punxsutawney Phil Getting A New Neighbor - Oil & Gas Wastewater Injection Well

-- TribLive: Grant Twp., Indiana County Community’s Fight To Stop An Oil & Gas Waste Injection Well

-- TribLive: Murrysville, Plum Officials Deal With Oil & Gas Waste Injection Well Issues In Allegheny County 

-- WTAE: Washington County Homeowner Takes On Gas Drilling Companies In Court 

-- KDKA: Washington County Family Takes 2 Gas Companies To Court Over Fracking Health Concerns 

-- WTAE: 6 Leaking Abandoned Conventional Wells In Hanover Twp., Washington County Contaminated Water Supply, Releasing Natural Gas In And Next To Hillman State Park 

PA Oil & Gas Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - June 17 to 23 - Federal Well Plugging Project & Dimock Area Shale Gas Well Inspections; Leaking Plugged Conventional Wells; Frack Out Investigation  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - June 24  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posts 47 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In June 24 PA Bulletin  [PaEN]  

Related Articles:

-- 3 Days That Shook Washington County: Natural Gas Plant Explosion; Pipeline Leak Of 1.1 Million Cubic Feet Of Gas; 10,000 Gallon Spill At Compressor Station  [PaEN]

-- Senate Committee Meets June 26 To Consider Nomination Of Richard Negrin As DEP Secretary; Energy Information Office, Electric Billing Legislation  [PaEN] 

-- House Republicans, Democrats Introduce Legislation To Prevent The Court System From Being Used By Powerful Interests To Silence Citizen Critics  [PaEN] 

-- House Environmental Committee Holds June 27 Meeting On Bills Increasing Setback Distances From Natural Gas Infrastructure, 2-Year Moratorium On Cryptocurrency Air Permits  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves Water Withdrawal Projects, Including 12 Related To Shale Natural Gas Drilling  [PaEN]

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Approves 32 Shale Gas Well Pad Water Use Permits In Bradford, Clearfield, Lycoming, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wyoming Counties  [PaEN] 

-- Susquehanna River Basin Commission Advises Water Withdrawal Permit Holders To Review Low Flow Water Restrictions And Begin Planning For Alternative Operations  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Finds PA General Energy Installed Its Shawnee Water Withdrawal On The Exceptional Value Loyalsock Creek At Sizes Larger Than Authorized By Its SRBC, DEP Permits  [PaEN] 

-- Senate Republicans Pass Bill To Significantly Narrow The Grounds For Appealing DEP Environmental Permit Actions  [PaEN]

-- Senate Environmental Committee Reports Out Bills Letting Polluters Decide When To Report Spills And CO2 Injection Well Primacy By Party-Line Votes  [PaEN] 

-- DEP To Hold July 25 Hearing On Proposed Roulette Oil & Gas Wastewater Injection Well In Potter County  [PaEN] 

-- EPA Issues Permit For Class IID Oil & Gas Waste Underground Injection Well In Jefferson County  [PaEN]

-- DEP Posts Solicitation For Bids To Plug 23 Abandoned Conventional Oil & Gas Waste Injection Wells Owned By ARG Resources, Inc. And Pennzoil Company In Elk County    [PaEN]

-- PUC Distributes A Record $278.8 Million In Act 13 Shale Gas Drilling Impact Fee Revenue; Conventional Oil/Gas Operators Do Not Pay These Fees  [PaEN]

[Posted: June 21, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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