DEP hearing on oil and gas regs tonight

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing on proposed oil and gas surface activities for conventional and unconventional operators in the main courtroom of the Warren County Courthouse at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

“One of the clear messages we’ve been getting through this hearing and comment process, from both industry and environmental groups, is that we should hold additional hearings and extend the comment period,” DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said in a press release. “Public participation is a key component when crafting these regulations, and we are happy to accommodate this extended period.”

So far, 52 people have signed up to provide testimony on the proposed regulations, according to Gary Clark, DEP community relations coordinator. Persons can sign up at the door to provide five minutes of testimony and should bring three copies of their comments.

The proposed regulations are attempting to create performance standards for surface activities at oil and gas well sites and to prevent and minimize spills and releases to the environment.

“These proposed regulations seek to update existing requirements related to surface activities associated with the development of oil and gas wells, including containment of regulated substances; waste disposal, site restoration; and reporting leases,” the DEP said. “These proposed regulations also establish new provisions for borrow pits; oil and gas gathering pipelines; identification of abandoned wells and the road-spreading of brine. Additionally, these proposed regulations add new requirements associated with the identification of the impacts to public resources from the construction of oil and gas well sites; standards for freshwater and wastewater impoundments; wastewater processing and water management plans.”

There are 782 permitted conventional oil and gas well operators active with at least 7,100 actively producing conventional wells in Warren County, according to DEP. The figures are an estimate because not all operators report their data to the DEP.

The DEP also estimates there are 7,280 conventional oil and gas operators in the Commonwealth, most of which are classified as small businesses. Conventional oil and gas drillers will be required to comply with sections of the proposed regulations such as identification of public resources, identification and monitoring of abandoned orphan wells, tank valves and access lids equipped to prevent unauthorized access by third parties, secondary containment for all above ground structures holding brine or other fluids and removal of underground storage tanks.

The associated costs for conventional drillers determined by the DEP with input from oil and gas operators, subcontractors and industry groups is estimated between $5,389,360 and $12,006,00 for all the conventional drillers in the Commonwealth.

The cost assumptions include approximately 1,334 wells drilled per year. DEP estimates 2,000 conventional wells are permitted each year for the next three years with two out of three permitted conventional wells drilled.

DEP estimates no additional costs for conventional drillers to comply with the identification of public resources or identification of abandoned and orphan wells.

Costs associated for conventional operators throughout the Commonwealth for tank valves and access lids equipped to prevent unauthorized access by third parties between $53,360 to $6,670,000; secondary containment for all above ground structures holding brine or other fluids an estimated $4,002,000; and removal of underground storage tanks at $1,334,000.

The Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers (PIPP) opposes the regulations and provides a number of letters for operators, industry businesses, employees of oil and gas companies, industry employees and concerned citizens to mail on its website.

“Shallow oil and gas wells have operated in this state for over 150 years and regulations currently governing those wells have been more than adequate to protect the environment while allowing producers to operate profitably through most of those years,” a suggested letter for operators on the website said.

PIPP says conventional drillers will not be able to tolerate the costs and should not be subjected to the same regulations as unconventional oil and gas operators. New regulations will result in unemployment, loss of production, a reduction in the local tax base and harm local businesses.

“Drilling and producing conventional wells must not be regulated by the same set of rules as deep, shale unconventional wells. The regulation package as it now stands is overly broad, burdensome and time consuming with out adding meaningful protection to the environment,” according to PIPP’s website.

Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus campaign coordinator for Clean Water Action (CWA), said the regulations are an opportunity “to get rid of frack pits/impoundments here in Pennsylvania.”

Operators are allowed to store wastewater produced from hydraulic fracturing in open air impoundments until it’s recycled, reused or taken away for disposal, he said. CWA has found many violations in the open air impoundments from spills, rips and tears in the liner that exposes soil to the wastewater.

The regulations offer “an opportunity to move away from this as a standard practice,” he said. “I think these rules and regulations are a response to operators who use hydraulic fracturing,” and it doesn’t matter if the operators are conventional or unconventional.

“It doesn’t matter…if utilizing hydraulic fracturing to extract natural gas then you should be applying these common sense approaches,” he said. “We are glad to see DEP provide additional public meetings so that the public could have greater opportunity to comment on these regulations.”

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, which revised Pennsylvania’s oil and gas laws, to address the growing unconventional well development of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

The law, known as Act 13, was meant to ensure the, “safe and responsible development oil and gas resources, and it included many new environmental safeguards,” said a DEP spokesperson.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down portions of Act 13 last month and ruled in favor of municipalities that had challenged the law’s limits on zoning of oil and gas operations.

“Although most of the proposed regulation is unaffected by the ruling, DEP anticipates having more clarity from the court before it is presented as a final regulation, and in consultation with our attorneys, will make any necessary changes to the final regulation to ensure that it conforms with the court’s decision,” DEP said.