PEC Opposes Legislation Mandating Different Safeguards For Conventional Oil And Gas Wells

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council sent a communication to the Pennsylvania State Senate to express its opposition to the recently introduced Senate Bill 1378 (P.N. 2053).

Paul King, President and CEO of PEC, made the following statement in association with the communication: “Senate Bill 1378 is a step in the wrong direction. At a time when we are still waiting for promulgation of new natural gas regulations from a law that passed more than two years ago, this legislation seeks to further limit protection standards. As many natural gas operators have done at their own initiative, including in cooperative fashion through the Center for Sustainable Shale Development, we should be looking for ways to improve performance and protection – not carving out new exemptions. If Pennsylvania truly wants to be a leader in responsible resource development, the General Assembly should promptly reject Senate Bill 1378.”

The text of the communication follows:

May 27, 2014

To:  Members of the Pennsylvania Senate
From:  John Walliser, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
Re:  Opposition to Senate Bill 1378 (P.N. 2053)

On behalf of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council, I am writing to express our strong opposition to Senate Bill 1378 (P.N. 2053) – which would establish the “Pennsylvania Conventional Oil and Gas Well Regulations Act.”

SB1378 directs the Department of Environmental Protection and Environmental Quality Board to establish separate regulations for conventional and unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania. This requirement would extend to allenvironmental protection laws in the Commonwealth.

Both conventional and unconventional wells pose potential risks to human health and the environment, including on or off site spills of wastewater or other contaminants, erosion and sedimentation issues, methane migration from subsurface disturbance, air emissions, and other impacts. Despite SB1378’s assertion, conventional well development is not inherently “benign”.

SB1378’s flaw is compounded by the fact that the legislation follows an artificial distinction between “conventional” and “unconventional” gas wells. The bill distinguishes “conventional” and “unconventional” operations solely by depth of the target formation – below the Elk Sandstone or its geologic equivalent.

Here’s why this is so important: this distinction does not account for the technology or technique (for example, hydraulic fracturing) used by an operator. In fact, SB1378 goes a step further to expressly state that the technology or design of a well is inconsequential to its characterization as “conventional” or “unconventional”(see, for example, page 2, line 23 of the legislation).

Therefore, pursuant to this legislation, any operator, regardless of the size of the company, could conduct high volume fracturing at shallow depths and still be deemed “conventional” – and thus subject to reduced protection standards. It bears noting that fracturing at shallower formations can pose even greater risks to ground and drinking water resources.

This arbitrary distinction, which has it roots in Act 13 of 2012, is wholly inappropriate as a benchmark for setting environmental protection standards.

Senate Bill 1378 creates a new and potentially vast exemption for natural gas operations, undercutting necessary environmental protections for on-site containment, drinking and surface water protection, air emissions, and other siting and control standards. This legislation goes directly against the import of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision last December with respect to Act 13 and the sufficiency of environmental protection in regulating natural gas development. The General Assembly should not violate the public trust by taking steps to further weaken the protections afforded to its citizens and environment.

We ask that you oppose this legislation. Thank you for your consideration.