Committee passes Wolf-endorsed bill to cancel drilling regulations

HARRISBURG, June 8 – State Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware/Montgomery, said that the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee passed a bill today that would cancel a portion of Chapter 78 regulations related to conventional drilling.

Vitali said that the bill, S.B. 279, is supported by Gov. Tom Wolf, even though the regulations were recently approved by the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

Vitali, Democratic chairman of the committee, said he is very disappointed that Wolf has succumbed to the pressure of the drilling industry.

“Cancelling any portion of these regulations would be very bad for Pennsylvania,” Vitali said. “I hope Governor Wolf reconsiders his support for this bill so we can protect public health and our environment.”

The regulations are designed to make both conventional and unconventional drilling safer in Pennsylvania, but conventional drillers continue to fight attempts to regulate them.

Conventional drilling is characterized by vertical wells into conventional rock formations. Unconventional drilling involves horizontal boring into tightly packed shale formations - most notably the Marcellus formation. Both use hydrofracking.

About 12,500 conventional and 8,500 unconventional wells were drilled in Pennsylvania from 2008 to 2014.

Vitali said the regulations should apply to conventional drillers because they are a significant part of the problem. According to the DEP:

  • Conventional drillers were responsible for about half off the 248 water supplies contaminated in Pennsylvania by drilling from 2008 to 2014.
  • Conventional drillers had three times the violations (1,464) of unconventional drillers and nearly three times the number of DEP enforcement actions (425) during 2014.
  • Conventional drillers were responsible for 15 of the 19 “special caution areas” identified by DEP as having deadly hydrogen sulfide dangers.

The Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites regulations were promulgated in accordance with Act 13 of 2012, and have not been updated since 2001, so modernizing them is critical to ensure protection of Pennsylvania’s environment, Vitali said.

He added that the regulations were fully vetted, having been subject to 12 public hearings and nearly 28,000 public comments.

Vitali said the commonsense regulations would require both conventional and unconventional drillers to, among other things:

  • Conduct a pre-drilling review of their sites to ensure abandoned and existing wells are not impacted,

  • Restore water supplies they have degraded to Safe Drinking Water Act standards, and

  • Comply with more stringent spill reporting and cleanup standards.

The bill now goes to the full House for consideration.