Well, the Harrisburg Bulldogs have released the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s full report, as of yesterday. Today’s blog is my $0.02 on the report’s set-up, plus I review the report’s 43 environmental recommendations. The report was commissioned by Gov. Corbulldog on how to best develop Marcellus Shale, and the committee was well-represented by industry lapdogs.
Don’t worry, I’ll blog more about this in the future…
Opening Docs and Exec Summary
The most disappointing thing at the report’s onset (from a dog’s eye view) is that the development of Marcellus Shale is never questioned. There is no question about whether development of shale gas and oil should be pursued. In other words, this report is a report about how to develop shale gas and oil, not a report about if we should develop shale gas and oil.
To wit, the opening letter states that the purpose of the report is to “develop a comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale.”
More than Marcellus
Just a quick FYI, lest ye wonder in 20 years about the lax regulations for Utica, Rhinestreet, Geneseo, Burkett, or other formations, this report is about more than just the Marcellus Shale: “the findings and recommendations of the Commission with respect to the Marcellus Shale should be considered generally applicable to other unconventional natural gas deposits.”
Responsible and Environmentally Sound– All 43 Recommendations
So, what are some of the new environmental recommendations? The public health & safety recs start on page 105 of the report. All 43 of them are summarized below. If you’d rather read the full report, then it can be found here.
Otherwise, skim through them here– and notice how lax the current regulations obviously are by the number of “no brainers” listed in the recommendations below. Also, notice how many of these recommendations are useless because they are phrased as DEP oughts and shoulds. And we all know for whom the DEP is working…
1. “Civil penalties for violations of the Oil and Gas Act should be increased from $25,000 to $50,000 and the daily penalty should be increased from $1000/day to $2,000/day.”
2. Remove power from the Environmental Hearing Board to assess penalties, and give that power to the DEP instead. (Notice that all DEP penalties assessed in the Oil and Gas Program must have approval from a Harrisburg Bulldog, and that this is the ONLY program in the DEP that has to send their penalty assessments to Hburg for the AOK.)
3. “Authorize the Environmental Quality Board to develop, by regulation, criteria for conditioning a well permit based on its impact to public resources.” (The DEP currently has this power, but evidently there are no criteria regulated.)
4. Amend the Oil & Gas Act to allow the DEP to revoke or suspent permits when an oil and gas operator is not correcting violations satisfactorily. (They currently have this authority, at least for leaky wells according to Title 25 78.86, but they rarely act on it– so I don’t know what this rec is supposed to accomplish.)
5. Extend predrilling notifications from 1,000 to 2,500 feet.
6. Extend presumed liability from 1,000 to 2,500 feet, and from 6months to 12 months after drilling. (Currently, if a water supply is affected, the operator is only presumed liable if the operation is within 1,000 feet of a water supply and within 6months of drilling.)
7. “Well operators should be required to track and report on the transporting, processing and treatment or disposal of wastewater from high-volume wells (ie 80,000 gallons or more of water used).” (Notice that this is a “should,” which means nothing.)
8. “Authorize DEP to develop a well operation permit so that entities can ‘adopt’ orphaned or abandoned wells.”
9. Increase the amount of bonds that operators must have. “Well bond amounts and options for alternative financial assurances should be re-examined within three years.”
10. Allow the DEP to hire well control specialists (for when there are blowouts) and allow the DEP to recoup the costs from the operator. (I especially like how this rec acknowledges the inherent safety risks of unconventional exploration.)
11. Setbacks from private water supplies (like mine!) should be increased from 200′ to 500′ and public water supply set back should be 1000′, unless waived by the owners. (Note that the wellpad currently near my kennel is waaaaay less than 500′ away.)
12. Allow DEP to enact stricter regulations for hazmat storage and use in floodplains. (Another no-brainer.)
13. Impose restrictions in floodplains, including prohibitions if appropriate. (Yet another no-brainer.)
14. Amend minimum reporting requirements for well stimulation to include more data. (The rec lists many requirements that should be included, and it is rather shocking that these things are not required already.)
15. Require enhanced inspection and notification processes for well sites. (Because right now operators basically do what they want when they want and where they want after they receive their rubber-stamped permit.)
16. “Require DEP to post, and regularly update, well inspection reports online.” (They should have also mentioned hiring many staff to accomplish this… nothing like an unfunded mandate.)
17. Force private water supply owners to construct their water supplies according to new standards that the state will establish. (Currently, property owners have the freedom to construct their water supplies according to their own personal and cultural standards.)
18. Regarding flowback and production water, “[o]ver the next six months DEP should evaluate all of its regulatory programs.” (Please, please, please.)
19. Try to get operators to “finance improvement projects” to generate “mitigation credits” that offset the damage they will cause to the environment in the future. (Again, a blatant acknowledgement of the damage that unconventional exploration causes.)
20. Don’t make operators restore the well site within 9 months if the DEP determines that they need more time. (This is a very odd rec bc there are already regulations that award this leniency.)
21. Make it clear that the DEP can require a water management plan under the Clean Streams Law. (This rec makes me wonder if the DEP would like to compete with other state agencies that monitor Clean Streams Law violations.)
22. Provide “operators with immunity from environmental liability” when they use, for example, acid mine drainage water instead of “non-freshwater sources”. (And on what planet the word “immunity” should enter the conversation, I will never be able to figure out… also, elsewhere in the report, they mention that there actually isn’t a definition for the word “freshwater”… so what does this rec even mean???)
23. Continually review best management practices. Try to get operators to use them. (And good luck with that.)
24. Increase setback from streams and water bodies from 100′ to 300′ from the wellbore and from 100′ from the edge of disturbance. (This recommendation is one of the most pointless attempts to appear like staunch regulators… as if 300′ is going to do any good.)
25. The DEP should continue to participate in industry efforts like STRONGER. (No comment.)
26. Make ecological diversity information public and permit applications for wells that would be located in areas of “high ecological value” will be required to provide a “description of its efforts to avoid, minimize or mitigate for impacts to the area.” (This honestly just boils down to words on paper and not a regulation that means meaningful actions will take place in the field.)
27. Analyze the engineering of spill containment systems. (Because we know they don’t work.)
28. Strengthen efforts during the permitting process to protect endangered and rare species. (Perhaps they should have something in there that says, “Don’t kill and eat rattlesnakes because they are endangered” so that pipeliners will stop killing and eating rattlesnakes… the latest news is that Anadarko was recently sited for this by the Fish & Boat Commission… it has yet to be publicly verified.)
29. Develop an “environmental checklist” to be used during permitting. (The fact that no one thought of this already is truly a shame.)
30. Reduce likelihood of introduction of invasive species into our area. (They should have been more specific here about where invasive species come from… OK, TX, WY, CO…)
31. Give DCNR a bit of respect and authority. (When you boil it down, that’s really what it says.)
32. Make DCNR monitor environmental impacts. (Why not DEP? I’m confused.)
33. Everyone should work together to get information out to the public and to other agencies.
34. DCNR should establish a “Natural Gas Advisory Committee.” (This, also, a bit confusing… but isn’t it just like government for one advisory committee to recommend the development of another advisory committee?)
35. “Identify legislative/regulatory changes” that would effect pipelines. (And then a bunch are listed.)
36. Minimize surface disturbance on future leases of state forest land. (It is hard to tell what this recommendation really says, but I think that this is what it says.)
37. The Dept of Health should be involved in health awareness curricular development. (This remainder of the recs are about the Dept of Health in particular.)
38. “The Department of Health should collect and evaluate clinical data provided by health care providers.”
39. “The Department of Health should routinely evaluate and assess Marcellus Shale-related environmental data.”
40. The Dept of Health should figure out a way of “characterizing and following over time individuals who live in close proximity (ie one mile radius) to gas drilling and production sites.”
41. The Dept of Health should establish a way to investigate health complaints.
42. The Dept of Health should educate health care providers as to the “assessment of human illness that may be caused by material in drilling.”
43. The Dept of Health should do #42 for the public as well.