State environmental regulators hope new oil and gas drilling rules aimed at modern shale drilling will help them find and cap more of the 200,000 old and abandoned wells that dot the countryside.
The proposed regulations for drilling, which Act 13 of 2012 ordered and the state Department of Environmental Protection is writing, include rules that direct drillers to locate and monitor any legacy wells they encounter during surveys or hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Based on comments on the proposal, the DEP is considering a clearer requirement that drillers report such discoveries to the agency, officials said Thursday during a meeting of its Technical Advisory Board.
“We have hundreds of thousands of these things across the state, so it’s essential that Pennsylvania does this,” said John Walliser, vice president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
Disturbing old wells, especially during fracking, can have dangerous effects, said Seth Pelepko, chief of subsurface activities in DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas in Harrisburg.
Such incidents have caused gas to contaminate nearby water wells and fluids to bubble up through the old gas wells. In one case, a well casing blew through the wellhead into a power line, Pelepko said.
“It’s important that the potential risk is minimized,” he said.
DEP might consider putting information it receives about abandoned well locations on a publicly available map.
The advisory board is culling through tens of thousands of comments DEP received on its rewrite of oil and gas regulations that cover permitting of all activities connected to drilling, reporting of incidents to the state and protection of nearby water and soil. DEP published a first draft in December and is tweaking that before issuing a revised draft next spring.
Regulators are considering changing language in the next draft to clarify rules concerning water testing, permitting and securing well sites, according to Kurt Klapkowski, director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management.
The gas industry is working with the advisory board on revisions, according to the Marcellus Shale Coalition.
The DEP must split its rules on deep shale drilling from more traditional, shallow drilling, based on a bill lawmakers passed with the fiscal code in July. Independent oil and gas companies asked that conventional drilling not be included in some of the stricter rules aimed at unconventional, or horizontal, drilling.
DEP presented to the advisory board two proposed chapters of the regulations based on the draft issued in December: one for conventional drilling and the other for unconventional. Some groups feared the July directive would force DEP back to the drawing board on the entire rewrite.
“This is really intended to be a launching pad, a foundation for changes,” Klapkowski said about the proposed chapters. “We can go back into this document and make changes.”
This article was written by DAVID CONTI from The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.