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Pa. Marcellus Commission Makes Recommendations to Gov. Corbett


On July 22, 2011, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission in Harrisburg, Pa. forwarded to the Governor several recommendations to allow Pennsylvania to develop a comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of the Marcellus Shale.

Back in March 2011, the Governor created the Commission to address changes to the laws and rules for gas drilling in Pennsylvania. The Commission is chaired by Lt. Governor Jim Cawley and consists of 29 other members from government, business and environmental groups. The Commission was broken down to four working groups focusing on environmental protection, economic development, infrastructure and local impact. Each of the working groups presented their report to the full commission for a vote with an opportunity to make amendments. The Commission took testimony at its monthly meetings which were held in various locations throughout Pennsylvania.

Some of the recommendations from the four working groups include:

Public Health, Safety & Environmental Protection
  • Increase civil penalties for violations of the Oil & Gas Act from $25,000 to $50,000; and the daily penalty should be increased from $1,000/day to $2,000/day
  • Review criminal and summary offenses to ensure they are consistent with penalties of comparable environmental statutes
  • Allow the DEP to assess civil penalties instead of the Environmental Hearing Board
  • Allow the Environmental Hearing Board to develop criteria for conditioning a well permit based on its effects on public resources
  • Amend the Oil & Gas Act to allow DEP to suspend, revoke or deny permits in a more timely manner than current law allows when an operator has failed to comply with the Oil & Gas Act or other applicable environmental statutes
  • Extend pre-drilling notification from 1,000 to 2,500 feet of the proposed well and include all landowners and water purveyors
  • Expand an operator’s presumed liability for impaired water quality from with 1,000 feet of a well to within 2,500 feet of a well, and from 6 months to 12 months of completion or alteration of the well
  • Apply presumed liability to well stimulation
  • Require well operators to track and report on the transporting, processing, and treatment or disposal of wastewater from high volume wells (i.e., 80,000 gallons or more of water used)
  • Allow the DEP to develop a well operation permit so that entities can adopt orphaned or abandoned wells
  • Increase well bonding amounts to $10,000 for deep wells or a blanket bond of $250,000
  • Amend the Oil & Gas Act to allow the DEP to enter into contracts with well control specialists
  • Increase the minimum set back distance from a private water well from 200 feet to 500 feet and establish a minimum setback distance from a public water supply to 1,000 feet unless waived in writing by the owner or public water supply operator
  • Amend well stimulation and completion reporting requirements
  • Require enhanced inspection and notice of activity on well sites
  • Increased notice requirements to DEP concerning cementing of casing, pressure tests and plugging
  • Require the DEP to post and update on its website well inspection reports
  • The State should enact legislation establishing construction standards for new private water wells to ensure the delivery of safe drinking water to its residents
  • DEP should review its programs to determine if obstacles exist or changes should be made to facilitate the increase in proper recycling of flow back and produced water from gas wells and to facilitate and encourage the increased use of non-fresh water for hydraulic fracturing
  • Amend the Oil & Gas Act to allow the DEP to extend the nine month well site restoration requirement
  • Encourage use of non-freshwater sources when feasible
  • Conduct an engineering analysis of spill containment systems at unconventional shale gas wells
  • Any future leasing of state forest land should be limited to agreements that result in no or minimal surface impact to State owned land
  • The Department of Health should collect and evaluate clinical data provided by health care providers and create a registry for the timely and thorough investigation of complaints raised by citizens or public officials
Local Impacts & Emergency Response
  • Assign well pads and facilities a 911 address for emergency responders
  • Standardize emergency plans for responding to incidents to ensure an acceptable level of expectation for safety and response coordination
  • Establish a Specialized Team of Emergency Responders and regional safety task forces
  • Increase hazardous materials training
  • Establish protocols for the emergency movement of heavy equipment
  • Establish an impact fee to offset costs incurred by the state associated with oil & gas drilling
  • Establish a gas safety inspector training facility within Pennsylvania to stop sending PUC inspectors out of state for pipeline safety training
  • Create a “one stop” permitting process for pipeline development
  • Prioritize financial resources and seek federal assistance to evaluate and expand rail freight facilities
  • Establish a structure within PennDot to invoice natural gas operators for costs incurred for inspections and improvements to non-posted roadways based on apportioned traffic counts
  • Prioritize and encourage the reuse of steel and blast furnace slag for aggregate application, such as well pad and access road construction
  • PUC should be given statutory gas safety oversight of non-jurisdictional intra-state gathering systems, including mechanisms to establish safety standards regarding the design, construction and installation of such lines within Class 1 areas
  • The Bureau of Aviation should undertake a detailed assessment of air service at regional airports within the Shale area in order to make targeted improvements
  • Counties  and municipalities should undertake an inventory and evaluation of locally owned bridges
  • Annual well production reports submitted to the DEP should specify the country of origin and manufacture to ensure safety and integrity
  • A state agency should be designated to alleviate delays in linear pipeline project development and approval
  • State agencies should offer accelerated permit reviews within guaranteed time frames
  • State law should be amended to authorize PennDot to negotiate leases that permit the location of energy and utility infrastructure within PennDot’s rights-of-way
  • PennDot should strengthen erosion and sediment controls as it concerns roadways
  • The state should develop planning tools and educational opportunities relating to unconventional gas development to counties; require proper notice of permit applications with an opportunity to comment and, under DEP guidance and consistent with applicable permit conditions, allow for County Conservation Districts to engage in inspections of erosion and sedimentation controls at unconventional well sites
Economic & Workforce Development
  • Invest revenues generated from natural gas development on state owned land
  • Identify strategic locations to construct regional business parks capable of tapping into existing infrastructure
  • Evaluate future rail needs necessary for maximizing shale development
  • Establish “Green Corridors” for natural gas fueled vehicles
  • Create financial incentives for the conversion of mass transit and school bus fleets to natural gas
  • Promote cogeneration technology
  • Create incentives to encourage the use of natural gas within the state
  • Provide increased access to databases and job opportunities
It should be noted that these are only recommendations and have no legal effect.

At the federal level, on August 11, 2011, the Department of Energy’s Shale Gas Subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy Advisory Board released its own report and recommendations to the Secretary of Energy. This Board recommended that natural gas companies engaged in hydraulic fracturing should be required to disclose all chemicals used in the process. The Board stated that the standard for invoking trade secrets “should be very high.” The Board also states that “progress needs to be accelerated in light of public concern” over drinking water. The report is the first of two reports the Board will submit to the Secretary of Energy. The second report is due November 11, 2011.

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Michael J. Basile / Responsible Attorney