Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill.

Courtesy Pennsylvania DEP

House panel OKs bill to gut environmental standards for conventional drillers

  • Marie Cusick
Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill.

Courtesy Pennsylvania DEP

Dead vegetation around a conventional well site in Warren County indicates a possible brine spill. of Environmental Protection

A state House committee has approved a controversial bill to eliminate many environmental requirements for Pennsylvania’s conventional oil and gas industry.

The House Environmental Resources and Energy committee voted 14-11 Monday to advance HB 2154. It’s the latest move in a years-long legal and political battle over how to regulate the state’s oil and gas industry.

Rep. Martin Causer (R- Cameron) is the bill’s prime sponsor. He said conventional oil and gas companies are distinctly different from the larger corporations that drill deeper, Marcellus Shale wells. Causer’s bill is aimed at reinstating 1984-era standards. An identical measure is before a Senate committee.

“This legislation would create a separate Oil and Gas Act,” Causer said. “I think that’s very important.”

Governor Tom Wolf opposes the new bills, but two years ago he made a deal with Republicans during state budget negotiations to kill pending regulations on conventional drillers.

In 2012, the state passed Act 13, a major overhaul of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas law. At the time, the law had not seen significant changes since the 1980s, despite technological advances in the industry. Act 13 placed new environmental requirements on both conventional and Marcellus drillers.

Democrats on the committee all voted against the new measure, including Rep. Carolyn Comitta (D- Chester), who said she believes it violates the environmental rights amendment of Pennsylvania’s constitution.

“The bill is rolling back protections for public resources,” she said. “We shouldn’t be rolling back protections, we should be improving protections.”

Among the major changes in the bill:

  • Revives a notion (similar to one struck down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2013) that pre-empts local government regulation of oil and gas activity.
  • Creates exemptions from Pennsylvania’s Storage Tank and Spill Prevention Act.
  • Exempts certain wastewater treatment facilities from water protection
    requirements.
  • Removes language requiring additional review by environmental regulators of well site impacts to public resources, such as state parks.
  • Removes a requirement for drillers who negatively impact a water supply to restore it, in some cases, to standards exceeding the Safe Drinking Water Act.
  • Replaces the current “notices of violation” given out by state environmental regulators with a new warning system for “minor violations.” Prohibits the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from using those warnings when calculating penalties.
  • Puts a three-year expiration date on all DEP policies relating to conventional operations that were adopted after April 16, 2012.