DEP annual oil and gas report
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has released its 2017 Oil and Gas Annual Report.
The department’s efforts last year included launching a mobile app for inspections; streamlining the form submission process; and beefing up on-site inspections.
Pennsylvania is a busy state for oil and gas development.
It was second in the nation last year in terms of natural gas production. “In 2017, about 5.36 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was produced from unconventional gas wells in Pennsylvania. This represents the largest volume of natural gas on record that has been produced in Pennsylvania in a single year,” according to the report. “Currently, Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas in the nation. Texas produces the most.”
“DEP is responsible for reviewing permits, and conducting inspections at oil and gas well sites, underground gas storage facilities, pipelines, and compressor stations,” according to the report.
In the report, DEP highlighted Cameron Energy of Sheffield for its efforts to clean up a legacy well site.
“Cameron Energy Company partnered with DEP and the U.S. Forest Service (Allegheny National Forest) to use its equipment and resources to address ongoing environmental impacts,” according to the report. “Access to the densely forested, remote site was limited, and the location of the leaking well on a small island at the confluence of two exceptional-value streams further complicated the response action.”
“Although the company did not own the well, it took steps to proactively assist with the remediation of this well site,” according to DEP.
DEP is working to streamline the permitting process, on both the submission and approval ends.
“Using the new department-wide electronic permitting system, DEP began developing two new e-permits for oil and gas operations in 2017,” according to the report. “One will replace the existing ‘eWell’ online well permit application, and the other will replace the Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit paper form and instructions used for non-transmission projects which are reviewed by the Bureau of District Oil and Gas Operations.”
“The new e-permits will bring an end to the need for operators to duplicate data entry and provide prompt feedback on permit completion, enabling faster application review and response,” according to the report. “The new e-permits are expected to launch in fall 2018, with outreach to operators by the Office of Oil and Gas Management.”
“DEP inspects oil and gas well sites to ensure they are constructed and operated in accordance with approved permits,” according to the report. “DEP’s goal is to inspect new wells at the beginning, middle and end of construction and development.”
“DEP launched a mobile app to enable inspectors to conduct electronic inspections at oil and gas sites using tablet computers, replacing a paper-based process,” according to the report. “Customizing PennDOT technology, DEP developed the app for inspections of all surface and subsurface activities, including erosion and sedimentation control, waterways encroachment, waste management, well construction, operation, plugging and spill cleanup activities.”
Officials expect the app to lead to a greater number of inspections and greater accuracy.
“With increased efficiency resulting from elimination of duplicate data entry, the number of oil and gas inspections is expected to increase,” according to the report. “Because the app improves data quality and enables photographic documentation, accuracy increased also.”
Inspection results will be publicly posted sooner thanks to the app.
“The public has access to inspection results sooner, since results are automatically saved to DEP’s permitting and compliance database (eFACTS) and are posted on the Oil and Gas mapping website within days, rather than weeks.”
“Inspections increased about 2 percent from 2016 to 2017, due in part to efficiencies gained from the development of electronic permitting capabilities,” according to the report. “DEP has also increased emphasis on inspecting orphan and abandoned wells.”
“DEP is committed to working with oil and gas operators to ensure well sites operate in compliance with all applicable laws and regulations,” according to the report. “DEP routinely provides compliance assistance through outreach and training opportunities. The total number of conventional well violations increased from 1,834 in 2016 to 3,273 in 2017. Unconventional well violations increased from 456 in 2016 to 821 in 2017.”
“DEP’s compliance and enforcement tracking database (eFACTS) was updated in 2017 to record an ongoing violation that is not otherwise corrected prior to a subsequent inspection as a separate violation,” according to the report. “Therefore, DEP now has the ability to record multiple violations for the same incident if it is not corrected in a timely manner. “
Fines and penalties
“Since 2010, DEP has collected about $35.5 million as a result of noncompliance at oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania,” according to the report. “These fines and penalties are used to reimburse operating costs that are incurred by DEP in the oversight of oil and gas and related environmental programs.”
The department collected a total of $3.54 million in 2017.
That amount is down from recent years.
“The fines and penalties collected in calendar years 2014 and 2016 are a result of significant violations observed at a relatively small number of enforcement actions,” according to the report. “For example, in 2016, nine violations resulted in the levy of about $8.4 million of the $9.7 million collected that year.”
“As a result of the oil and gas drilling booms during the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, hundreds of thousands of oil and gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania,” according to the report. “Over the past 150 years, many of these wells were abandoned by their owners without notifying DEP or other state agencies. DEP estimates that between 100,000 and 560,000 abandoned oil and gas wells exist in Pennsylvania that remain unaccounted for. These legacy orphan and abandoned wells can lead to pollution if they are not properly plugged.”
“One way the public and industry can help DEP to expand its inventory of known legacy wells is to report the location of such wells when they are discovered,” the report said. :If you come across a well on your property or when you are on other public lands that you believe is an orphan or abandoned well, please let DEP know. Contact a DEP District Oil and Gas representative.”