Inspectors with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are on pace to find more cementing and casing violations in the Marcellus Shale than before, but a spokesman for the agency said the uptick is the result of tighter regulations, not an industry problem.
According to data from the DEP, inspectors found 861 violations at well sites in the Marcellus as of Sept. 13. Of those 861 violations, 65 were for "failure to report defective, insufficient or improperly cemented casing within 24 hours or to submit a plan to correct the problem within 30 days." That violation has doubled from last year, when the DEP cited operators 32 times.
DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday told NGI's Shale Daily that the agency was seeing more violations because the agency implemented new regulations on Feb. 5.
"When you have new regulations you are going to see new violations," Sunday said Monday. "It's just a matter of us doing our due diligence with the drillers to make sure that they're constructing their wells in a manner that prevents the migration of [methane] gas."
Other violations found so far this year include nine cases of "inadequate, insufficient of improperly installed cement," and one case of "insufficient casing strength, thickness and installation equipment." The violations occurred in Bradford, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Elk, Jefferson, Lycoming, Potter, Susquehanna, Tioga, Wayne and Wyoming counties.
By comparison, the DEP reported 1,259 violations for all of 2010, 87 of which involved casing and cementing. Besides the 32 violations mentioned earlier, the DEP also found:
Sunday indicated that he disagreed with a recent report by the Scranton Times Tribune that suggested the DEP was finding additional violations because of unsafe practices by operators.
"It's not that the casing is outright shoddy," Sunday said. "Under the new casing regulations, operators are required to perform pressure testing and we've extended the amount of information they need to give us in a well completion report. They also need to provide us more information about the construction of the well.
"Given the geography of certain drill sites, you're always going to have some issues. If the pressure test [results] aren't where they need to be, the violations could be there."
The 16 operators cited for violations in 2011 were Anadarko E&P Co. LP, Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., Chesapeake Appalachia LLC, Chief Oil & Gas LLC, EOG Resources Inc., EXCO Resources PS LLC, Flatirons Development LLC, Hess Corp., Novus Operating LLC, Pennsylvania General Energy Co. LLC, Penn Virginia Oil & Gas Corp., Range Resources Appalachia LLC, Seneca Resources Corp., Southwestern Energy Production Co., Williams Production Appalachia LLC and XTO Energy Inc.