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Wolf vetoes oil, gas drilling rule relaxation

AP file photo Part of an abandoned oil drilling project in the Allegheny National Forest in Pennsylvania. In the last three years, two companies have abandoned about 3,000 wells in and around the forest, walking away from cleanup responsibilities that could cost the state tens of millions of dollars.

HARRISBURG — Should tougher environmental standards for oil and gas drilling aimed at hydraulic fracturing apply to more traditional oil and gas drilling?

Pennsylvania’s state legislators say they should not. Gov. Tom Wolf disagrees.

Pennsylvania Republicans have sought for the past two terms to ease regulations on what they call the conventional oil and gas industry with the Conventional Oil and Gas Wells Act. The legsilation defines conventional, shallow-well oil and gas industryto include oil and gas well locations which are typically smaller than hydraulic fracturing, operations in shallow low-pressure formations, low-pressure wells, and natural gas systems which feed local consumers homes or local buildings rather than intrastate or even interstate systems.

Senate Bill 790 passed the state House of Representatives 109-93 and the Senate 29-19 with Sens. Scott Hutchinson and Michele Brooks voting in favor. Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, voted in favor of the legislation in the House.

“The conventional oil and gas industry has been in Pennsylvania and contributing to our economy for more than a century and a half,” Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-ADLKJSADLKJ, wrote in his legislative memorandum. “From 1984 until 2012, the conventional oil and gas industry complied with the Oil and Gas Act, which was specifically crafted for the size and scope of their operations. As a result of the Marcellus shale boom, Act 13 updated the Oil and Gas Act to deal with the uniqueness of the much larger unconventional industry. Some provisions of Act 13 placed additional burdens on the much smaller conventional producers. Over time, this has brought the conventional industry to near collapse.”

The Environmental Defense Fund opposed the change, saying the legislation removed a state requirement that oil and gas drillers must provide replacement sources of drinking water if they if wells are contaminated by drilling operations. Likewise, the EDF opposed limits on oil and gas companies’ financial responsibility to clean up orphaned or abandoned wells.

The organization also took issue with changes to well design permitting and well plugging standards.

Wolf vetoed the legislation for several reasons. The governor wrote the state Department of Environmental Protection has tried to work collaboratively with legislators to develop requirements that fit conventional oil and gas drillers, but the legislature chose to work on its own. The resulting legislation, in Wolf’s eyes, would allow spills to go unreported and avoid erosion and sediment control permitting requirements.

“This legislation poses an unacceptable risk to the environment and the public health and safety of our citizens,” Wolf wrote in Veto Memorandum 17. “At a time when the conventional industry is still incurring violations at three to four times the rate of the unconventional industry, this legislation is completely unacceptable. Finally, several provisions in the bill relating to burdens of proof, municipal input, public participation and inadequate authority to regulate and enforce environmental standards run afoul of the Pennsylvania Constitution and, based on precedent, would likely not withstand judicial scrutiny. The substantive issues outlined herein only address a fraction of the concerns related to this legislation.”

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