Conventional drillers must be regulated too

By Greg Vitali

An independent state commission recently approved regulations to make natural gas drilling safer in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, an important segment of the drilling industry - conventional drillers - are attempting to exempt themselves. Governor Wolf and the Pennsylvania Legislature should stand firm and make sure these regulations apply to all gas drillers.

On April 21, the Pennsylvania Independent Regulatory Review Commission approved a set of regulations developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection entitled “Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites,” also referred to as the Chapter 78 regulations. IRRC found these regulations to be “in the public interest.”

These 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.

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.

These Chapter 78 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.

Unfortunately, conventional drillers with the help of some legislators, have consistently fought attempts by the state to regulate them.

Currently there are two measures of concern moving through the legislature: House Concurrent Regulatory Review Resolution #1, recently approved by the House Environmental Committee would cancel the entire regulatory package and Senate Bill 1011, recently approved by the Senate Environmental Committee would cancel only the regulations relating to conventional drilling.

These regulations have not been updated since 2001 and are long overdue. They have overwhelming public support. Governor Wolf and the General Assembly should oppose any attempts to block or weaken them.

State Representative Greg Vitali represents the 166th Legislative district of Pennsylvania which includes parts of Delaware and Montgomery Counties.  He is Democratic Chairman of the House Environmental Resource end Energy Committee.