The chairwoman of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee called the recent natural gas well blowout in Clearfield County a “near miss” during a hearing about the incident.
No one was injured by the spill, but Mary Jo White and other lawmakers say they’re worried about what happened.
Senators told Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger the Clearfield County spill, a recent fire at a drilling site in West Virginia and the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico are creating fear and concern about expanded drilling in the commonwealth.
Hanger told the committee DEP inspectors have conducted more than 17-hundred site inspections this year, including three at the Lawrence Township site that spewed gas and fracking water 75 feet into the air for 16 hours.
"What we’re trying to do with the rules and the oversight and the enforcement, of course, is work with good management to have a culture of putting safety first. And that culture really has to emanate from the CEO and the board of directors, all the way down to the people who are at the well sites and drive the trucks."
Democrat Anthony Williams of Philadelphia said he’s worried the department’s inspection staff of less than a hundred is too small to monitor the commonwealth’s 15-hundred active natural gas wells.
Hanger says his department has the staff it needs to inspect Pennsylvania’s 15-hundred active wells. But he's asking the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee to pass a law allowing DEP to withhold new permits for companies with poor safety records.
"Arguably, perhaps more than arguably we have that authority now under the act. But that’s an action that could be challenged in a court. And we would like crystal clear language so we don’t even have to deal with that challenge. And I believe we have some suggestions for you on that matter."
Hanger testified alongside David Spigelmyer, the Vice President of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, at the Senate hearing. Spigelmyer says the Clearfield County spill and a recent fire at a West Virginia Shale well are “unacceptable,” and not the norm for natural gas drilling.