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PA Gas Production & Inspections All-Time High, Compliance at Five-Year High

Aug 12, 2016

Even as natural gas production sits at an all-time high, regulatory compliance by shale drillers is at five-year highs, according to a new report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In the newly released DEP 2015 Oil and Gas Annual Report the agency indicates that while Pennsylvania’s natural gas production is leveling at an all-time high at 4.6 Tcf – enough natural gas to power more than 62 million U.S. households annually – regulatory compliance by the companies producing that gas is as high as ever and violations have declined.

DEPProduction

In 2015, 785 unconventional wells were drilled in Pennsylvania and the DEP conducted 13,186 inspections on unconventional well sites, which was more than any year prior. The agency also tripled Enhanced Administrative Inspections since 2013. The report found that the number of overall violations decreased significantly – a 67-percent decrease for unconventional wells from 2010 to 2015.

DEPInspections

In 2014 Range Resources re-examined how the company approached compliance and restructured Environmental, Health and Safety and split out a team solely dedicated to Environmental Compliance. That team is led by various subject-matter experts with combined decades of regulatory experience in environmental protection.

“This topic is of critical importance, which is why we put together a team solely dedicated to this issue,” said Range’s VP of Environmental Compliance Mike Sherman. “We’ve worked to be even more proactive and engaged, from Range’s role in Pennsylvania’s Pipeline Task Force, to employees in leadership positions with organizations that share our commitment to compliance and best practices, to participating and helping lead training and outreach efforts among industry, regulators and NGOs, and much more.”

The DEP report shows consistent improvement in compliance even as inspections have increased. David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, told the Observer-Reporter:

the report details “a number of the collaborative successes that our industry, working closely with key stakeholders including regulators, continues to make as it relates to protecting our environment while producing prolific amounts of clean-burning American natural gas.”

Spigelmyer noted that despite “harsh market challenges,” the soaring production has resulted in lower consumer energy costs and enhanced air quality.

“At the same time, while DEP’s performed a record number of inspections, overall regulatory compliance is at a five-year high and trending in the right direction.”

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management “regulates the safe exploration, development and recovery of Marcellus Shale natural gas reservoirs in a manner that will protect the commonwealth's natural resources and the environment.”

The 2015 report indicates:

“DEP's Office of Oil and Gas Management conducts rigorous inspections at oil and gas sites across the state. Inspections at well sites are necessary to ensure that the environment is protected, particularly during well development. Currently, DEP employs about 100 oil and gas inspectors that are responsible for ensuring oil and gas wells and well sites are constructed properly...the total number of all well inspections has steadily increased from 2008 through 2015.”

In addition to more efficient production of clean-burning natural gas, the DEP report further indicates that increased production has provided a number of benefits to Pennsylvania and the U.S. as a whole. According to the report:

“Since 2008, Pennsylvania’s natural gas production has increased dramatically, resulting in increased energy security due to less dependence on fossil fuels from other parts of the world.” The DEP report continued that “increased shale gas production has resulted in a number of significant benefits including less expensive energy costs and improvements to Pennsylvania’s air quality as a result of the increased use of cleaner burning natural gas.”

This is consistent with previous studies and reports, including a prior DEP press release stating “…since 2008, when unconventional drilling across the state began quickly increasing, cumulative air contaminant emissions across the state have continued to decline.” And that the increase in natural gas usage has helped reduce overall emissions which “represent between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefit.”

According to independent analysis Pennsylvania is producing gas the right way.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) partnered with the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), a multi-state consortium of state oil and gas regulatory agencies, to develop the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations or STRONGER as it’s more commonly known. STRONGER has conducted reviews of Pennsylvania’s regulations in 1992, 1997, 2004, 2010 and 2013.

In its most recent report “the review team has concluded that the Pennsylvania program is, over all, well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives.” The report indicated that “in fact, we believe several aspects of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and its operations merit special recognition.”

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