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DEP Developing New Conventional Well Regulations Following Veto

The state Department of Environmental Resources is again trying to update regulations governing conventional oil and gas drillers after legislation approved in late 2020 was vetoed Gov. Tom Wolf.

Republican legislators have for years argued that conventional drillers should face less stringent requirements than unconventional drillers. Conventional drilling, which has taken place in Pennsylvania for more than 100 years, involves wells that are drilled vertically into a reservoir of oil or gas, while unconventional development uses horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, to create cracks in deeper shale layers to release trapped gas.

Unconventional wells are much deeper, use large amounts of water and chemicals under high pressure and are much more expensive than conventional wells, which are usually drilled by smaller companies.

Senate Bill 790 was approved by the Legislature but vetoed by the governor in late November. It was amended from the original bill to lower the requirements for reporting of spills for both oil and wastewater, or brine, to the Department of Environmental Protection. In addition, a provision in the original will that would have allowed for spreading of brine on dirt roads to suppress dust was removed. Opponents had argued that drilling wastewater can contain salt, metals and radioactive particles.

In his veto message, Wolf said that “while this legislation attempts to address the distinct challenges associated with the conventional oil and gas industry, it does so in a manner that does not adequately protect the environment and the public health and safety of the citizens of the Commonwealth, and would contribute to a legacy of environmental degradation.” He said the state Department of Environmental Protection has tried to work with legislators to develop requirements for conventional drillers but has not had cooperation.

Kurt Klapkowski, DEP Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning director, told the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board in December that the agency will again try to work with the Pa. Grade Crude Development Advisory Council (CDAC), which was created by the legislature in 2016, to update the regulations that date to 2001 while meeting the needs of conventional operators

He said there areas where both DEP and operators agree, areas where the “agree to disagree,” and areas of where a consensus much be reached. The discussions will focus on the areas of “significant disagreement” with the goal of presenting new draft regulations to the CDAC at its meeting in April.

In 2019, the DEP issued permits for 1,475 unconventional wells, but just 230 conventional wells.

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