Pennsylvania natural gas wells produced a record amount in 2018, according to the recently released annual report from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Gas production in the state reached more than 6.1 trillion cubic feet in 2018, an increase of .8 trillion cubic feet over the previous year. The amount of gas produced in Pennsylvania has risen each year since 2011, the earliest year included in the report, when 1.06 trillion cubic feet was produced.
Pennsylvania is second only to Texas in the amount of gas produced, the vast majority from unconventional gas wells, which use hydraulic fracturing to access large amounts of gas trapped in layers of shale thousands of feet beneath the surface. The wells use long lateral lines that travel vertically out from the horizontal well boring to access more area.
While gas production was up in 2018, the number of well permits dropped slightly from 2017. DEP reported that 2,149 permits were issued in 2018, 1,868 of them for unconventional wells. That number was down 160 from the previous year, and well below the high of 3,560 issued in 2011. “Sustained low commodity prices coupled with longer wellbores contributed to a decline in permit applications,” a DEP news release indicated.
A total of 917 wells were drilled in the state, 777 of them unconventional. Of those, 689 were in the Marcellus and 66 were in the Utica. In 2017, 810 unconventional wells were drilled.
The increase in gas production has required DEP to strengthen its oversight efforts. “DEP attained new levels of efficiency in the permit application and review process as well as site inspections in 2018,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a news release. “Gov. (Tom) Wolf and DEP have made permitting and inspection efficiency a priority – reducing overall permit backlog by more than 90 percent since 2016 and improving inspection efficiency while ensuring compliance with our environmental regulations.”
In 2018, DEP found 1,043 unconventional well violations, a 27 percent increase from the previous year, and collected $4.1 million in fines and penalties for noncompliance. Inspectors now use tablet computers in the inspection process, making it much more efficient. DEP said that internal restructuring and expansion of electronic tools allowed it to improve efficiency. Several permit applications can now be done in electronic form, and the permit review structure has been simplified, reducing permit review time