Main­tain gas well stan­dards

The Republican Herald - - OPINION -

Penn­syl­va­nia has the old­est gas and oil in­dus­try in the United States. The na­tion’s first com­mer­cial oil well was drilled in Ve­nango County in 1859.

That well, only about 70 feet deep, was the first of more than 300,000 that have been drilled since. They are dis­tinct from wells that char­ac­ter­ize the rel­a­tively new gas in­dus­try that taps into the Mar­cel­lus and Utica shale for­ma­tions thou­sands of feet deep. The Mar­cel­lus/Utica wells use mod­ern deep-drilling tech­nol­ogy and high-pres­sure “frac­tur­ing” to lib­er­ate gas in the deep un­der­ground rock.

Devel­op­ment of the new gas in­dus­try over the past 12 years prompted the state, be­lat­edly, to up­date its laws and reg­u­la­tions cov­er­ing the eco­nom­ics and en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact of large-scale drilling. Up­dated reg­u­la­tions cov­ered the tra­di­tional in­dus­try and the new in­dus­try be­cause en­vi­ron­men­tal con­cerns cre­ated by drilling are com­mon.

On Tues­day, the state House passed a bill, 111-84, that elim­i­nates fun­da­men­tal en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions for the tra­di­tional gas in­dus­try. Spon­sors com­plained that many smaller con­ven­tional well drillers can’t af­ford the same level of en­vi­ron­men­tal com­pli­ance as the larger com­pa­nies that dom­i­nate the shale in­dus­try.

But the is­sue is en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, and the House bill pretty much dis­penses with it in sev­eral ways. It would al­low drillers to spill 210 gal­lons of crude oil or 630 gal­lons of waste­water brine with­out re­port­ing it to the state Depart­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion. It also elim­i­nates a re­quire­ment for drillers who dam­age a wa­ter sup­ply to re­store it to lev­els ex­ceed­ing those of the Clean Wa­ter Act.

The bill would take the com­mon­wealth back­ward by decades, in ef­fect re-es­tab­lish­ing stan­dards for con­ven­tional wells as they were in 1984 — the last time the state re­vised drilling law prior to Act 13, the 2012 law that now gov­erns drilling.

Penn­syl­va­nia’s gov­ern­ment is re­quired by the state con­sti­tu­tion to pro­tect the en­vi­ron­ment, not to carve out en­vi­ron­men­tal ex­cep­tions for fa­vored in­ter­ests. If this bill passes the Se­nate, Gov. Tom Wolf should veto it.

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