The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection released the 2017 Oil and Gas Annual Report on August 31. The report shows the number of conventional oil and gas well violations more than tripled between 2015 and 2017 from 1,024 to 3,273 last year. Of the conventional well violations in 2017, 1,803 were environmental health- and safety-related violations and 1,470 were administrative-related violations. The number of violations found with unconventional (shale gas) wells also increased from 404 in 2015 to 821 in 2017. Of the 821 unconventional well violations in 2017, 754 were environmental health- and safety-related violations and 67 were administrative-related violations.
Since 2010 DEP has collected about $35.5 million in penalties as a result of noncompliance with oil and gas regulations, including $3.5 million in 2017.
DEP reported site inspections increased 2 percent over 2016, for a total of 36,288 inspections—16,296 conventional well inspections, 15,243 unconventional well inspections, and 4,749 administrative/well site inspections.
Through the first three years of the Wolf administration, DEP has averaged 35,483 total inspections per year, up from an average of 26,230 in the prior four years, in keeping with the Wolf administration’s commitment to provide consistent, fair, and timely enforcement of Pennsylvania’s environmental regulations. Development of a tablet-based electronic tool in 2017 has greatly streamlined the process for field and office staff and for operators and made inspection results more quickly available to the public—in days rather than weeks.
“As the production of natural gas in Pennsylvania reached record volume last year, DEP continued to work hard on program developments that improved customer service to industry and strengthened environmental protection,” said DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell.
New tools and initiatives were launched last year to step up efforts, in the face of great funding need, to address the statewide problem of orphan and abandoned wells left by oil and gas drilling operations before regulations were put in place in the 1980s.
DEP has now located 11,359 orphan and abandoned wells through its Legacy Well Initiative. DEP estimates there are between 100,000 and 560,000 of these wells, with most unaccounted for. DEP increased inspections of these potentially hazardous wells; created online mapping and video educational tools; and started a Good Samaritan Program to encourage and train the private sector to help plug them.
The interactive, multimedia annual report offers several levels of data: the year in review; deeper detail and historical data; and educational overviews of drilling and the regulatory process statewide. For example, users can see how much gas was produced in Pennsylvania in 2017, compare this to production since 2010, or drill down to see production by individual wells.
The annual report also features a section on the many ways the public can stay up-to-date on regulations, for example, by signing up for email notifications or attending Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board Meetings in person or by webinar.
Click here for a copy of the report.