Corbett Will Sign Drilling Emergency-Response Bill

Washington PA  Observer Reporter
20 January 2012
By Associated Press

HARRISBURG - Gov. Tom Corbett plans to sign newly passed legislation designed to provide an emergency response plan and accurate GPS coordinates for each Marcellus Shale well site in Pennsylvania.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously this week, is the third Marcellus Shale-related bill to go to Corbett's desk. It passed the House last month.

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Luzerne, said it fills a "gaping information hole" for emergency responders rushing to accidents at well sites and will reduce risks to people, property and the environment.

Under it, state regulators must write emergency regulations ordering the well operators to provide emergency response agencies with an emergency response plan and a unique GPS coordinate address for both the well site and the access road entrance.

The operators also must post a reflective sign at the entrance to each well site with the address, GPS coordinates, the operator's emergency contact number and anything else state regulators decide to require.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported last week that the state Department of Environmental Protection undercounted the number of producing Marcellus Shale wells, frustrating Senate and House staff members who have been trying to make accurate projections about how much revenue an impact fee on wells might generate for local governments.

The newspaper reported that its analysis of DEP data found 495 more wells producing gas, or ready to produce gas, than the DEP has recorded as ever being drilled. Of those, 182 of those wells didn't even show up on the state's Marcellus Shale permit list, it reported.

Since 2008 began, operators have drilled more than 4,000 Marcellus Shale wells in Pennsylvania, according to DEP figures, as multinational energy giants have spent billions of dollars to join the rush to exploit the gas in the formation.

For now, Corbett, a Republican, and leaders of the House and Senate's Republican majorities are trying to negotiate an agreement on a bill to slap an impact fee on Marcellus Shale wells and update state safety laws that never envisioned such deep, horizontal drilling across wide areas of the state.

In addition, the state Public Utility Commission is working to hire seven new pipeline inspectors and finalize guidelines for pipeline operators under a month-old law that authorizes the agency to enforce federal safety rules over many new natural gas gathering pipelines that are accompanying the booming drilling industry.

Pennsylvania was one of two natural-gas producing states that did not enforce the safety rules.

The law covers many, but not all, types of the gathering lines. Lines built in the most rural areas would remain uninspected by the government, although they still require federal, state or local permits to cross wetlands, streams and roads.

Companies are expected to build thousands of miles of gathering lines to ferry gas from producing Marcellus Shale well sites in Pennsylvania to larger, interstate pipelines.

Under the proposed new guidelines, pipeline operators would be required to register and submit information on how many miles of gathering lines they manage.

Another bill signed by Corbett last year updated the rules for drilling gas wells through workable coal seams.