Hoping for eased environmental reporting provisions, conventional oil and gas drillers were instead met with disappointment as Governor Tom Wolf vetoed a bill that would have accomplished that feat.
Wolf stated that although the bill addressed challenges faced by the energy industry, it failed to sufficiently protect the environment. Additionally, public health and safety would have still been matched with concern. In his veto message, Wolf further stated his doubts of whether or not the bill could withstand legal dispute.
In response to mounting questions, House GOP spokesman, Jason Gottesman, said lawmakers would gather in the near future to determine the agenda. This agenda will be reviewed in January’s approaching session.
Necessity of the bill
Sponsored by Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson), the bill was proposed to fulfill an agreement made by the Wolf administration and lawmakers that conventional drillers and unconventional operators should be treated differently. This thought process recognized that while unconventional operators utilize horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing to achieve greater depths, conventional operators drill much shallower wells.
Amended in January, the bill was designed to lower spill reporting requirements to two barrels of oil as opposed to the previous five. Additionally, brine or wastewater was reduced from fifteen barrels to five. Unless the spill posed harm to people, the environment or property, reporting was not necessary under the new requirements. The amendment further removed a clause allowing wastewater to be used to control dust covering roads.
A Penn State study conducted in 2018, however, revealed alarming data. Drilling wastewaters can be radioactive and contain salt as well as other contaminants that far surpass drinking water standards. It also revealed that the metals found in wastewater could leach from roadways and make their way into the ground.
Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike voiced differences found within the bill. While some validated differences in drilling practices and the need for fair regulation, others focused strictly on environmental concerns.
“There are major differences between unconventional deep-well drilling and conventional, shallow-well drilling … differences that this administration continues to ignore because it doesn’t fit their narrative,” said Representative Martin Causer (R-Turtlepoint). “The industry is struggling immensely, and a significant cause of that struggle is the lack of understanding and purposeful misrepresentation of how our conventional oil and gas operations work in a safe and environmentally conscious manner.”
According to State Impact Pennsylvania, Senator Katie Muth (D-Montgomer) determined that the bill’s provisions were unacceptable. She cited that corporations would be allowed to spill more than a bathtub’s worth of oil without any oversight from regulatory agencies.
Countering and attempting to stress the bill’s importance, Causer stated that the majority of the state’s conventional oil and gas wells are owned and operated not by large corporations but by sole proprietorships and small businesses instead. He was quoted on pennbizreport.com as saying, “The men and women live, work and raise their children in the same communities where they are drilling for oil and gas. They are capable of and committed to producing this valuable energy source while also ensuring clean air and water for themselves and future generations.”