Conventional oil and gas production is different from unconventional production, so why do the two industries share regulations?
That’s an argument that the region’s state legislators have been making for seven years, and this year, they are hoping for success. On Monday, the state House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee moved a version of Senate Bill 790 to the House floor.
“This is a continuation of our effort to have a separate act specific to our conventional operators,” explained state Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint. “We’ve been working on it for seven years.
“Ever since 2012, (Department of Environmental Protection) has wanted to regulate conventional wells the same as unconventional, and we know the industries are very different,” he said. “We are working continuously to have the regulations separated.”
Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Brockway, sponsored Senate Bill 790, which passed the Senate. Causer sponsored the version in the House.
“There is bipartisan support for the bill,” Causer said, “with the goal of reasonable, responsible regulations for the conventional producers.”
The measure is not without its detractors. The DEP and environmental groups are in opposition, saying the bill reduces regulations for conventional producers. At Monday’s session, the House committee heard from state Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, who urged her Republican colleagues to vote against the measure and stand up for local governments.
“By enacting laws like this, we tie the hands of our local municipalities to protect families like mine,” Otten said. “I think we do a disservice to our role as state legislators by stepping on the toes of our local governments to do what is right for their communities to protect the health, welfare and safety of their communities and the unique situations that they face.”
The discussion mostly centered on whether the legislation goes too far in relaxing regulations, but, predictably, the disagreement broke along party lines.
“They are not asking for reduced regulations,” Causer said at the session, and again on Wednesday. “They’re asking for reasonable, responsible regulations.”
Causer told The Era, “Many legislators in Harrisburg don’t understand the difference” between conventional and unconventional production. “I told them ‘listening to some of you talk about this bill, I think you could trip over a conventional well and not know what it is.’ We’ve worked hard to educate those who are willing to listen. It just speaks to the fact that we need separate regulations.”
He said some people talk of the dangers of wells near homes or businesses. “I use the example of Cline Oil Number One at McDonald’s all the time,” Causer said. That conventional well operates at the restaurant’s busy drive-thru without disturbing the business or its customers. “We brought regulators to Bradford and showed them.”
Causer said the House minority leader kept calling conventional oil producers “polluters,” which Causer found offensive. “They are energy producers that want to do the right thing.
“I referenced our refinery in Bradford,” Causer said, meaning American Refining Group, “the only refinery in Pennsylvania that produces Pennsylvania grade crude. They are struggling for crude and some of it is from excessive regulation.”
Before voting on the bill Monday, Causer offered an amendment to reduce from five barrels to two barrels how much oil operators can spill before they must notify state environmental officials. It also lowered from 15 barrels to five how much brine they can spill before alerting state officials.
The amendment, which the committee approved unanimously, would eliminate the use of brine as a dust suppressant or as a road stabilizer on unpaved roads.
The change, however, may not be enough to gain the support of Gov. Tom Wolf should it make it to his desk for consideration.
“This bill still poses an undeniable risk to the health and safety of our citizens, the environment, and our public resources,” NPR quoted J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, as saying in a statement.
Causer said on Wednesday that he is going to continue to push for bifurcation.
“We are going to keep moving forward with the bill,” he said. “We’ve negotiated in good faith and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”
(Todd DeFeo of The Center Square contributed to this report.)