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Senate, House Re-Write Of Oil & Gas Act For Conventional Drillers Turns Back The Clock To 1984

Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Venango) and Rep. Martin Causer (R-Forest) Monday introduced House Bill 2154 (Causer-R-Forest) and Senate Bill 1088 (Hutchinson-R-Venango) establishing the Conventional Oil and Gas Act to re-write drilling requirements to specifically apply only to conventional oil and gas drillers, turns back the clock on regulating these facilities to the Oil and Gas Act passed in 1984.

The existing Act 13 passed in 2012 would then apply to only unconventional (Shale) oil and gas drilling operations.

The Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is scheduled to consider Senate Bill 1088 on March 26.

In announcing the legislation earlier, Sen. Hutchinson said,   “In the near future I plan to introduce legislation that would re-enact the Oil and Gas Act of 1984 with provisions that make it reflective of today’s conventional oil and gas industry.

“The conventional oil and gas industry has been in Pennsylvania and contributing to our economy for more than a century and a half. With the Marcellus Shale boom and the proliferation of advanced drilling methods, a new type of oil and gas industry developed in Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Hutchinson.  “As a result, Act 13 of 2012 was passed to address some of the concerns and issues that were specific to this new unconventional industry. Although it was intended to address new issues with the unconventional industry, Act 13 also placed an unbearable burden on the much smaller conventional producers and over time has brought the conventional industry to near collapse.

“To help alleviate this, I am introducing a redraft of the Oil and Gas Act with new language designed to update or clarify old provisions where needed,” explained Sen. Hutchinson. “This will help to provide a legislative framework for regulations specific to conventional oil and gas drillers in a way that protects the environment while preserving this valuable industry.”

Rep. Causer said in his announcement, “The conventional oil and gas industry employs thousands of people and is a vital contributor, not only to our local economy but to our statewide economy as well.  The goal of this legislation is to ensure fair regulation of the industry that will effectively protect the environment while also protecting this valuable industry and the jobs it provides.”

“Although Act 13 was intended to address new issues with the unconventional industry, it also placed an unbearable burden on the much smaller conventional producers,” Rep. Causer said. “The operations are very different, and the regulations must be as well.”

Differences With 1984, Current Law

The new Conventional Oil and Gas Act is based on the Oil and Gas Act adopted in 1984.  There are, however, some key differences even from that basic law and current requirements--

-- Eliminates Protections For Public Resources: Section 305 of the draft omits this language from Section 205 of the 1984 law--

The department shall, on a making a determination on a well permit, consider the impact of the proposed well on public resources to include, but not be limited to, the following:

(1)  Publicly owned parks, forests, gamelands and wildlife areas.

(2)  National or State scenic rivers.

(3)  National natural landmarks.

(4)  Habitats of rare and endangered flora and fauna and other critical communities.

(5)  Historical and archaeological sites listed on the federal or State list of historic places.

            The conventional oil and gas industry lost a challenge to DEP’s ability to consider impacts on public resources last June before the PA Supreme Court.  This is no doubt an attempt to correct that.  Click Here for more.

-- Preempts Local Ordinances: Although Section 902 on preemption of all local ordinances was included in the 1984 Oil and Gas Act and is repeated here, the provisions related to preempting the application of local ordinances regulating land development from applying to conventional oil and gas operations clearly run afoul of the PA Supreme Court’s Robinson Township decision in 2013 based on the Environmental Rights Amendment to the state constitution.

-- Drastically Increases The Threshold For Spill Reporting: New Section 1103 eliminates the requirement to report any spills less than 5 barrels of oil (200 gallons) or 15 barrels of brine (600 gallons) unless the well operator determines there is an immediate threat to public safety, health or the environment. The DEP threshold for reporting now is 5 gallons of a regulated substance, like oil and more than 5 gallons of brine within 24-hour period.

-- Takes Away Authority For DEP To Issue Injection Well Permits: New Section 904 takes away DEP’s present authority to issue its own permit for drilling waste injection wells unless it has primacy under the U.S. EPA Underground Injection Well Program.  DEP has approved permits for 3 injections wells for drilling wastewater in Clearfield,  Elk and Indiana counties.

-- Sets New Standard For Crude Oil Spill Site Cleanup: New Section 1103 sets a new standard for crude oil spill site cleanup from active wells in law for total petroleum hydrocarbons of 10,000 mg/kg (ppm) and substitutes something called "established field practices" for cleaning up a spill rather than the methods used in the PA Land Recycling Program. The number comes from EPA’s standard for cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells where no responsible party is found.  The PA Land Recycling Program does not have a total petroleum hydrocarbon standard because it is too imprecise.  Instead, standards are set for benzene, toluene , ethylbenzene and xylene.

-- Allows For Warnings For Violations: New Section 711 establishes a new enforcement practice of issuing warnings for violations that pose no material harm to public health or the environment, rather than just having DEP issue notices of violations to “alleviate the unwarranted use of notices of violation for minor violations.”  The warnings will be issued were compliance can be accomplished within 48 hours and cannot be used as a basis for a civil penalty when compliance is achieved.

(Photo: Conventional well drilling site, PA Independent Oil & Gas Association.)


PA’s Legacy Conventional Oil, Gas Production Addressed In Legislation

Related Stories:

Senate Committee Meets March 26 To Consider Bill Adopting 1984 Oil & Gas Act To Regulate Conventional Drilling

DEP Authority To Regulate Impact Of Conventional Oil & Gas Wells On Public Resources Upheld By PA Supreme Court

DEP: Conventional Oil and Gas Well Violations Up Nearly 80 Percent In 2016

Conventional Drillers Have 5 Times The Violations, 3.5 Times The Enforcement Actions

Hutchinson Bill Killing DEP Update Of Conventional Drilling Regulations Signed Into Law

[Posted: March 21, 2018]


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