STAFFIN’ UP: PA Gas Producers Welcome Guv’s New Regs, Battalion of Bureaucrats

In a press release yesterday, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell announced a host of new regulations for Marcellus shale gas development. He is also directing the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to hire 68 (we’re not sure where he got this number either) new employees to oversee and enforce shale gas and environmental regulations and laws, according to the statement.

Safe, responsible shale gas production helped create 50,000 jobs in Pennsylvania last year alone, and Rendell highlights this significant economic impact:

“As I’ve said all along, we want to encourage the development of this resource because it’s a tremendous economic opportunity for the state, but we will not allow that to happen at the expense of our environment.”

Here are the specific new regulations that Rendell laid out:

• Require the casings of Marcellus Shale and other high-pressure wells to be tested and constructed with specific, oilfield-grade cement;
• Clarify the drilling industry’s responsibility to restore or replace water supplies affected by drilling;
• Establish procedures for operators to identify and correct gas migration problems without waiting for direction from DEP;
• Require drilling operators to notify DEP and local emergency responders immediately of gas migration problems;
• Require well operators to inspect every existing well quarterly to ensure each well is structurally sound, and report the results of those inspections to DEP annually; and
• Require well operators to notify DEP immediately if problems such as over-pressurized wells and defective casings are found during inspections.

The governor’s announcement was welcomed with opened arms from the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC). In a release, MSC President and Executive Director Kathryn Klaber says:

“The Marcellus Shale Coalition has consistently supported the hiring of additional DEP staff to monitor natural gas wells in the commonwealth, as reflected in its proactive endorsement of permit fee increases in 2009 to add and train new inspectors. Our support continues with today’s announcement of an additional 68 DEP staff dedicated to the oil and gas program. This sustainable approach is working and will help to ensure the continued responsible development of the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.”

MSC also underscores the fact that shale gas producers in Pennsylvania have a remarkable environmental safety record, thanks in large part to the sensible state regulations coupled with efforts by the industry to ensure that every aspect of production is done responsibly. This from their release:

•Inspections: A total of 14,000 field inspections, including shallow well locations, were made by DEP in 2009, with enforcement action resulting from Marcellus Shale drilling activity accounting for only 1.1 percent of the state’s total actions. Often times, those findings were easily and quickly corrected.

Only 1.1 percent of the state’s total enforcement actions were associated with Marcellus shale gas production. An awfully insignificant amount of cases by any metric. Agreed? Well, if you were fair-minded, sensible and make informed decisions based on facts, then the answer would most likely be yes.

But if one opposes safe, well-regulated, environmentally-sound shale gas production – which is helping to create tens of thousands of good-paying jobs and delivering affordable energy to struggling families and small businesses – one may choose to disregard such facts and cherry-pick isolated cases to help build a presupposed narrative.

Enter ProPublica, a mouthpiece for out-of-the-mainstream environmental zealots cloaked as “journalists”. Under the headline “Pennsylvania’s Gas Wells Booming–But So Are Spills,” ProPublica’s Sabrina Shankman reports this earlier in the week:

As more gas wells are drilled in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale, more cases of toxic spills are being reported.

Ms. Shankman highlights several uncommon incidents that have occurred in Pennsylvania associated with shale gas production in her “article.” One “spill” that she hand-picked to showcase was caused by vandalism.

Any mention of the fact that 1 percent of the energy-related incidents that occurred in Pennsylvania last year were related to Marcellus shale gas production, helping to provide adequate context for readers? Of course not. How silly would that be?

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