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Pennsylvania DEP Chief Opposes Injection Well Moratorium

Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Secretary Michael Krancer said late last month he is "not convinced" that wastewater injection wells are an issue in the state, and said he disagreed with a state legislator's plan to enact a two-year moratorium.

In a letter dated July 31 to state Rep. Camille "Bud" George (D-Houtzdale), Krancer said the DEP has concerns over the language of HB 2350, state legislation that George submitted in April that calls for a moratorium and other measures. Specifically, Krancer pointed out that injection well regulation was the dominion of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) through its underground injection control (UIC) program.

"Any discussion of UIC issues must take into account the Commonwealth's limited role in this process, as well as issues of federalism and preemption, especially with regard to any proposed moratorium," Krancer said. He added that the state has not sought primacy of take over the UIC program from the EPA, "primarily due to the small number of [injection] wells in the Commonwealth and the lack of resources provided by EPA to administer the program.

"While DEP staff and I are ready and willing to work to improve the UIC program in Pennsylvania, given the current structure of the program, I cannot agree that enacting a moratorium on new permits is a sound position."

The DEP chief also said he took issue with George's characterization of comments that Krancer made recently about wastewater disposal, specifically with total dissolved solids (TDS). The secretary said his comments had been revised to give the impression that he believes state and federal laws for injection wells were "disfavored."

"High TDS flowback water does represent a concern for the Commonwealth's waterways and groundwater," Krancer said. "Where wastewater cannot be treated and reused/recycled, the best solution for disposing of high TDS wastewater is deep well injection."

In addition to the two-year moratorium, HB 2350 calls for the DEP to complete a review of existing data of the state's known geologic faults, establish a maximum fluid injection pressure for injection wells and evaluate the potential for conducting seismic testing during routine inspections of injection wells.

Last month George submitted HB 2556, which would require companies perform a pre-drilling or pre-alteration survey of water supplies for landowners that reside between 2,500 and 5,500 feet of a proposed natural gas well that would be fracked. HB 2350 and HB 2556 are currently under consideration by the Pennsylvania House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which George chairs. George said in January he plans to retire at the end of the year.

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