In a House committee meeting, the subject of how Pennsylvania manages its regulations was front and center.

AP Photo/Matt Rourke

House passes bill removing environmental standards for conventional drillers

No movement on companion Senate bill; Gov. Wolf opposes the effort

  • Marie Cusick

The state House approved a controversial bill Tuesday that eliminates key environmental requirements for Pennsylvania’s conventional oil and gas industry.

HB 2154 is the latest maneuver in a years-long legal and political battle over how to regulate the oil and gas industry.

In 2012, Pennsylvania passed Act 13, a major overhaul of the state’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.

Conventional operators tend to be smaller companies that drill shallower oil and gas wells. They have long complained they’ve been unfairly thrust into a regulatory scheme targeted at major corporations that drill deeper, Marcellus wells.

Despite its passage in the House, a companion Senate bill has not advanced, and Gov. Tom Wolf is strongly against it.

“This bill is bad for the environment,” Wolf’s secretary of legislative affairs William Danowski wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “For example, the legislation allows for up to 210 gallons of crude oil or 630 gallons of brine, to be spilled without having to be reported.”

HB 2154 also removes an existing requirement for drillers who damage a water supply to restore it, in some cases, to standards exceeding the Safe Drinking Water Act. Environmental groups have called the bill a “wholesale weakening of environmental standards.”

Rep. Martin Causer (R- Cameron) is the prime sponsor. He said conventional oil and gas companies are distinctly different from Marcellus Shale wells. His measure is aimed at reinstating 1984-era standards.

“It appears there is still a great deal of confusion about the conventional versus unconventional industries. This is something we’ve struggled with since the passage of Act 13 of 2012. We’ve had a conventional or ‘shallow’ industry in Pennsylvania for over 150 years, providing family-sustaining jobs and quality energy for our nation.”