PADEP Proposes New Natural Gas Drilling Regulations; Increases Number of Marcellus Shale Inspectors
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("PADEP") recently promulgated a draft regulatory package that would substantially impact natural gas drilling operations in the Commonwealth. PADEP proposes to amend its regulations for the construction of oil and gas wells (25 Pa Code Section 78) by imposing new casing and cementing requirements in an effort to increase protection of both public and private water supplies. Specifically, the new regulations would bolster well construction specifications and hold drillers responsible for restoring or replacing water sources contaminated by drilling operations to the standards set forth by the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition, new notification requirements would require drillers to promptly inform PADEP if wells are over-pressurized, if casings are defective or if gas has migrated into drinking water sources. New inspection requirements would mandate quarterly checks on the integrity of existing wells in operation to ensure that there is no evidence of gas escaping from wells and to determine whether there is evidence of progressive corrosion or other signs of deterioration. Operators will be required to submit annual reports to PADEP identifying compliance status associated with these inspections.
In addition to the new regulations, Pennsylvania is moving to expand oversight of Marcellus Shale drilling operations by increasing the number of employees in the Bureau of Oil and Gas Management. PADEP recently announced it was adding 68 new employees to oversee drilling operations. By way of comparison, in 2008, Pennsylvania had just 35 employees to oversee 74,774 wells. By 2009, enforcement staff increased to 76. This fourfold increase in the number of inspectors over a two year period represents a significant commitment by PADEP to carefully monitor drilling operations in Pennsylvania and underscores the need for drillers to proactively implement and carefully document environmental compliance measures.