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PA Group Opposes Separate Rules For Conventional, Unconventional Wells

An environmental group in Pennsylvania has sent a letter to lawmakers in the state Senate to voice its opposition to a bill that would require the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) to create separate regulations for conventional and unconventional wells.

In a letter Tuesday, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) said it is strongly opposed to SB 1378, also known as the Pennsylvania Conventional Oil and Gas Well Regulations Act, because of how the bill defines a conventional oil and gas well.

Specifically, PEC opposes SB 1378 for defining a conventional well as one that is "drilled to produce natural gas from shale formations located above the base of the Elk [Sandstone] or its stratigraphic equivalent." It would also include wells "drilled to produce natural gas from shale formations located below the base of the Elk [Sandstone] where natural gas can be produced at economic flow rates or in economic volumes without the use of vertical or non-vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracture treatments or by using multilateral well bores or other techniques to expose more of the formation to the well bore."

John Walliser, PEC vice president for legal and government affairs, said the bill is flawed because it "follows an artificial distinction between 'conventional' and 'unconventional' gas wells. The bill distinguishes...operations solely by depth of the target formation.

"This distinction does not account for the technology or technique -- for example, hydraulic fracturing -- used by an operator. In fact, SB 1378 goes a step further to expressly state that the technology or design of a well is inconsequential to its characterization as 'conventional' or 'unconventional.'

"Any operator, regardless of the size of the company, could conduct high-volume fracturing at shallow depths and still be deemed 'conventional' -- and thus subject to reduced protection standards. It bears noting that fracturing at shallower formations can pose even greater risks to ground and drinking water resources."

SB 1378 was referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on May 22.

In a joint statement last month, the bill's sponsors -- Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) and Scott Hutchinson (R-Oil City) -- urged their counterparts to support their bill because Act 13, the state's omnibus Marcellus Shale law, created standards for unconventional drilling that don't apply to conventional wells.

"It is important to note that this legislation would not relieve the conventional oil and gas industry from any existing or future health or safety regulations which may be appropriate or necessary," the lawmakers said. "Rather, it would ensure that both industries continue to be held to the highest standards while not burdening the small shallow well drillers with regulatory requirements which are neither feasible [nor] affordable for their industry."

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