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DEP Citizens Advisory Council Meets Jan. 19 To Hear Presentations On Damage Caused By Underground Coal Mining; Abandoned Oil & Gas Well Issues

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council is scheduled to hold a virtual meeting on January 19 to hear presentations on abandoned oil and gas well issues and on damage caused by underground coal mining documented in DEP’s Act 54 Report.

On January 9, the Council published a notice in the PA Bulletin announcing it will accept public comments on the Act 54 Report until April 9.  Read more here.

Abandoned Wells

Seth Pelepko, DEP Program Manager for the Office of Oil and Gas Management, will be doing the presentation on abandoned oil and gas wells, along with Arthur Stewart, President of Cameron Energy Company, a conventional oil and gas well drilling company.

Pelepko did a presentation to DEP’s Climate Advisory Committee in October where he reviewed the abandoned oil and gas well problem in the state, described several case studies on capping wells and discussed the existing financial resources the agency has to deal with the problem.

He said the number of abandoned wells is growing, pointing to cases in 2018 where two operators with major holdings abandoned 2,750 wells.

He also discussed how existing bond amounts do not cover actual plugging costs leaving taxpayers on the hook.

Since 1989, DEP has plugged a few more than 3,000 wells, but more than 8,500 wells are on DEP’s abandoned well database.  DEP says, conservatively, recent studies suggest there are likely to be at least 200,000 legacy wells that will require plugging.

At a low-end estimate of $33,000 for plugging each well, DEP said the plugging liability  is between $280 million (8,500 wells) and $6.6 billion (200,000 wells).

DEP’s existing Good Samaritan Law provides some relief allowing third parties to volunteer to plug legacy wells where there is no responsible party.

The Cameron Energy Company has been involved in plugging abandoned wells under DEP’s Good Samaritan Law.  Read more here.   Read more here.

An additional concern is improperly decommissioned natural gas gathering lines that introduce stray gas into the subsurface.

Click Here for a copy of that presentation.

Act 54 Report

Stephen Kunz, from Schmid & Company, Inc. and representing the Citizens Coal Council, will be making a presentation commenting on DEP’s latest Act 54 report which catalogs the damage caused to water resources, surface property and structures caused by underground coal mining.

The Citizens Coal Council has been critical of past DEP Act 54 as being inadequate. 

In December, 2019, the Department of Environmental Protection released the 2013-2018 Act 54 Assessment Report, the fifth in a series of reports required by Act 54 of 1994 documenting the impacts of underground coal mining on surface structures, water supplies, streams, land damage, groundwater and wetlands.

The report, done by the University of Pittsburgh, analyzed the impacts of 49 underground bituminous coal mine operations which undermined 28,854 acres in Greene and Washington counties during the reporting period of 2013-2018.

Of the 86 miles of streams undermined deep coal mining, 59 miles or 40 percent experienced multiple impacts such as loss of flow or pooling and on average their Total Biological Score declined significantly.

In the last Act 54 report covering 2008-2013 in 2015, the University of Pittsburgh also found 40 percent of the streams undermined by deep coal mining suffered the same sorts of impacts. Read more here.

Of the 3,612 structures undermined during this period, there were a total of 391 effects from active mines and an additional 64 reported impacts from mines there were in active during 2013-2018 totalling 455 structures.

Of the 455, 247 structures-- 54 percent-- were found to be the mining company’s fault with the remaining 208 reported effects had a company not liable resolution or are still in interim resolution (109).

The report also made a series of recommendations on improving DEP’s responses to preventing this damage and for better data collection.

Click Here for a summary of the report and more information.

CAC Review

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council has the opportunity, under Act 54,  to review the report and make recommendations on changes to DEP’s policy and regulations based on its findings.

In 2015, when the last report was completed, the CAC held a formal comment period on the report and a hearing in the affected area to gather public comments.

The Council then sent comments and recommendations on the report’s findings to DEP for its review.

Legislature Limits Report

On a related issue, in the final FY 2020-21 state budget Fiscal Code bill, there was a provision which prohibited DEP from spending more than $280,000 per fiscal year on putting together the Act 54 report on impacts from underground coal mining.  Read more here.

It was a successful effort by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Washington) to limit the amount of information made public about these damages.

Public Comments

Individuals interested in providing public comments during the meeting must sign up prior to the start of the meeting by contacting Keith Salador by sending email to: ksalador@pa.gov or calling 717-787-8171.

The meeting will start at 12:30 p.m.  Click Here to register to participate via WebEx.  To join by Audio Conference: +1-415-655-0003   Access code: 132 216 6027.

For more information and available handouts, visit the DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.  Contact: Keith Salador, Executive Director, ksalador@pa.gov or 717-787-8171.

Related Article:

-- Public Invited To Comment On DEP Report Showing 40% Of Streams Are Damaged By Underground Coal Mining

[Posted: January 8, 2021]


1/11/2021

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