“Hopefully, this is the beginning of a new day,” said Mark Cline, member and new vice chairman of the state’s Crude Development Advisory Council.
The first meeting of the council was held Tuesday, and its three local members came away from it feeling optimistic.
The council was established in the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Act in 2016, and is required to examine and make recommendations regarding existing regulations and policies of the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and to assist with new policy impacting the conventional oil and gas industry.
Also serving on the council are state Rep. Marty Causer, R-Turtlepoint, and Bob Esch of American Refining Group; as well as Patrick McDonnell, acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection; Dennis Davin, secretary of community and economic development; Sen. Scott Hutchinson, R-Oil City; Joe Thompson of the Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers, of which Cline is president; David Ochs and Burt Waite, both of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association; Nick Andreychek of Ergon Refinery; Dr. Terry Engelder, Penn State University professor of geosciences, and Dr. Richard Parizek, Penn State professor emeritus hydrology; Bruce Grindle and Arthur Stewart, both of Pennsylvania Grade Crude Coalition; and John Phillips, president and chief executive officer of the Oil Region Alliance of Business, Industry and Tourism.
Cline said, “This is the first time ever the DEP and industry has been able to work together with academia there. Last year, we were brought in to talk after the regulations were written.”
Now, this council will have a say in regulations before they are put in place.
“Some of the duties are tough, but having a hand in some of the new regulations that are going to be written is going to be great,” Cline added.
Committees were created to work on issues identified at the meeting. “One is for production water, one is for increasing oil production, one is for promoting the industry and the other is for educating citizens.”
Cline was named chair of the water committee. He explained the issue is what to do with the water after it has been used in oil production. “That’s something PIPP has worked on for 30 years,” he explained. He’s hopeful that Engelder and Parizek may be able to help solve the industry-wide problem.
“One of the big problems (in the oil industry) is the abandoned wells,” Cline explained. “The department (DEP) doesn’t know where most of them are.”
However, there was a suggestion that McDonnell seemed to embrace, and the academics thought was doable. “We are going to these colleges to get interns to go out and look for these abandoned wells” and map them. “Any wells that are leaking, the industry has offered to cap them if the DEP” provides the supplies.
“We’ve been talking about tax incentives for somebody who plugs a well,” he explained.
They also discussed bioremediation, which Cline said is done in every state but Pennsylvania. Instead of digging up contaminated dirt and hauling it to a landfill, the dirt can be tilled and leaf-litter added to it to remediate it. “It’s a one-hundredth of the cost,” Cline said. We’ve been doing it since 1994 for the (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). We’ve plugged over 1,800 wells and we haven’t hauled a bit of dirt to the landfill.”
While acknowledging that this was only the first meeting, Cline said he was left very optimistic for a future of cooperation and collaboration.
“It’s a whole new attitude,” Cline said. Causer echoed Cline’s enthusiasm, and said he hopes the council continues in the same spirit of cooperation and collaboration.
“I’m very encouraged and looking forward to serving on this council,” Causer said.
“We created this council because when we were dealing with the proposed regulations, it became very apparent that somebody needed to be providing more advice to the DEP,” Causer said. This council is “made up of people with extensive knowledge and expertise.
“I”m very encouraged by it and very hopeful we can accomplish a great deal with the council,” he said. “Just opening that dialogue with the department (DEP) is a huge thing that I think will help going forward.”
Esch, too, is encouraged by the open discussion and dialogue at the first meeting.
“To have the secretaries of the DEP and DCED and scholars from prestigious schools and industry representatives to be talking about the issues you face, and be talking about them in such a way that we want to address those concerns that have held the industry back,” he said. “It’s creating right now some encouragement for a much brighter future.”
Esch explained he’s part of two of the committees for the group, including the one aimed at educating the public about the conventional industry. “We don’t do a good job telling our story,” he said. “Every now and then, you need to step back and tell the world who you are. If you don’t, you aren’t going to get heard.”
Esch agreed with Cline that this council has the opportunity to be a turning point.
“I”m encouraged. There was nobody pushing back,” he said, adding that everyone approached the council with an open mind for cooperation and collaboration. “We need to figure this out and move forward.”