Tuesday, May 10, 2011

PA DEP Oil and Gas Director: Don’t Walk The Line

At a recent gathering of Marcellus Shale Gas proponents, the Director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, Bureau of Oil and Gas Management said gas production in Pennsylvania can be safe but only if drillers do the responsible thing.

Shale drilling regulations should be seen as a baseline standard said Director Scott Perry, “If you want to comply with those rules I think the environment will adequately be protected, but when you keep close to that line, accidents can happen and when that happens the environment is impacted.” Perry asked drillers to give the rules a buffer. “By giving the rules a bit of a buffer you can avoid having environmental impacts when things go wrong,” said Perry.

Perry also called on the industry to look for best practices and to adopt them. “There is no need for regulations to be developed when there is no impact to be addressed.” Perry used gas migration as an example saying the industry needs to adopt a zero tolerance policy. When such standards are put in place according to Perry, the Marcellus industry can be as non-controversial as more traditional gas drilling. “It’s been so successful that a lot of people had no idea that we were even drilling wells in Pennsylvania… that’s the kind of environment I want to get back to,” said Perry.

Perry told the industry to keep worker safety as a high priority as well. “We have had in the past 12 months several [Shale well] fatalities in Pennsylvania, while mining had zero,” said Perry. Perry believes ensuring the safety of workers includes safely dealing with condensates at the wellhead.

Perry demanded that public safety, public health and the environment drive the driller’s actions. He called for liner systems at well pads to keep any spills from becoming environmental problems, better air quality controls and more innovative solutions to lower the number of trucks traveling to and from a well pad.

The director took exception to those who are calling for every ingredient in the fracturing fluid to be made public while at the same time pushing for recycled frack water to be used in new wells. “It does not matter what you put down the hole it’s not going to contaminate fresh ground water,” said Perry. The focus should be on properly handling the water once it comes back to the surface, continued Perry.

Perry vowed to help the industry by making sure the DEP “works at the speed of Marcellus” and by working to “promote transparency, consistency and timely decision making” at the department.

“We have resolved a lot of issues in recent years and have proven [Shale drilling] can be done safely,” said Perry. The director admits there are challenges in the Shale fields but he says there are great opportunities for the state. He called on Pennsylvanians to switch household appliances from electric to natural gas to build demand. He called on gas producers to look for customers in Pennsylvanian and to help build new gas related industries here rather than elsewhere. “I have heard some discussions about export terminals, I think that is fine for Canada but I hope we could keep this tremendous opportunity local.”

Listen to the story as it aired on 90.5FM WDUQ.

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