Lawmakers should look to the recent crafting of “one of the most comprehensive underground mine safety laws in the country” for inspiration when they consider the further regulation of Marcellus Shale natural gas activities in Pennsylvania, John Hanger, secretary of the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), told a state Senate panel Wednesday.
“Since January 2010 the department has completed nearly 1,700 inspections of Marcellus Shale drilling sites across the state, finding more than 530 violations that range from poor erosion and sediment controls to administrative violations to spills and leaks from improperly managed or constructed containment pits,” Hanger told the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “In 2009 inspectors found 638 violations at Marcellus Shale operations.”
Hanger was lobbying for new regulations to protect the state’s waterways from natural gas drilling wastewater. “The new regulations are necessary to ensure that drilling wastewater containing high concentrations of total dissolved solids [TDS] does not pollute drinking water supplies, damage industrial equipment or endanger delicate aquatic life,” he said.
Last month the state’s Environmental Quality Board (EQB) approved the new regulations (see Daily GPI, May 18). The Independent Regulatory Review Commission is expected to meet and consider the proposal on Thursday. The regulations must still be reviewed by the Pennsylvania attorney general’s office, approved by the Environmental Resources and Energy committees in the state House and Senate, and undergo a 30-day review period at the Independent Regulatory Review Commission.
The proposed rules would require drillers to treat drilling wastewater until it reaches 500 milligrams per liter (mg/l) of TDS or to “drinking water quality” if they choose to return the wastewater to rivers and streams, Hanger told the panel. Drillers may dispose of wastewater through reuse or recycling, disposal in deep caverns as permitted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, or by treating it to the 500 mg/l standard. “Several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, New York, Iowa, Virginia, Arkansas and Tennessee, prohibit returning any drilling wastewater to streams,” he said.
In his testimony Hanger cited contamination caused recently by wells of Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. in which methane migrated to water supplies (see Daily GPI, April 19). He also noted the activities of EOG Resources Inc, which had been ordered to suspend all of its natural gas well drilling activities in the state in the wake of a June 3 blowout at a company well in Clearfield County, PA (see Daily GPI, June 14).
“A properly cased and cemented well is critical to containing gas, oil and other fluids within the wellbore and out of fresh groundwater,” Hanger said. “These proposed rules make important improvements through such measures as pressure-testing casing used in Marcellus Shale and other high-pressure wells, and further defining specifications for oil field-grade cement to be used for well casing and providing new standards for the use of blowout preventers.”
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