Speaking at a first-of-its-kind summit attended by 150 representatives of the oil and gas industry, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said that taking advantage of the state's energy resources is important to its economy and to the nation's interests, but doing so must be balanced against the need to protect Pennsylvania's natural resources.
"The economics of the energy industry are driving an incredible level of interest in Pennsylvania's natural resources," said McGinty. "In three of the last four years, we've set a new record in terms of the number of permits issued to drill here, and this year could bring another record."
"This activity can be a tremendous economic boon for our state's citizens and industries, especially at a time when natural gas prices are at record highs. However, developing our energy resources cannot come at the expense of our environmental resources - our water, our land and our ecosystems," she said.
The meeting was held to ensure the owners and operators of drilling operations have a clear understanding of Pennsylvania's laws and regulations, whether they are from the state or from elsewhere.
"These rules are in place to protect our natural treasures and we will not compromise on them," said McGinty.
One of the thousands of natural gas wells in Pennsylvania (Photo credit unknown)
Pennsylvania's independent oil and gas companies operate in 31 of the state's 67 counties. Most of the crude oil is produced in the counties of McKean, Warren, Forest and Venango, although production also occurs in the counties between Butler and Greene. Natural gas is produced in all 31 counties. In 2006, a record 4,931 oil and gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania.
Pennsylvania has an estimated 2.8 trillion cubic feet of proved natural gas reserves in the ground awaiting development, according to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Association.
In 2006, Pennsylvania natural gas producers drilled approximately 3,900 new wells in the state.
Much of the new drilling activity taking place in Pennsylvania is targeted at reaching the natural gas found in the Marcellus Shale formation. Up until recently, those natural gas deposits were either inaccessible or reaching them was cost prohibitive because the Marcellus Shale is much deeper than formations where traditional gas fields are located.
But new drilling techniques and extraction methods as well as higher energy prices have brought drilling activities to areas of the state unaccustomed to such operations.
Developing the Marcellus Shale formation requires large amounts of fresh water, and McGinty says that recent inspections by DEP and its partners have uncovered violations that threaten the state's water resources and its environment.
Violations include poorly constructed and dangerous water impoundments, inadequate erosion and sediment controls, improper waste and fluid disposal, and improper and unregistered withdrawals of water from streams.
"Over the past few weeks, DEP inspectors have observed a number of violations at drilling sites operated by companies that were new to Pennsylvania," said McGinty. "In light of those discoveries, we acted quickly to stop this harmful activity and felt it was necessary to bring all current and potential operators together to meet directly with the agencies responsible for protecting our water and other natural resources."
On May 30, the DEP ordered the partial shutdown of two drilling operations in Lycoming County and stepped up inspections of drilling operations statewide.
In addition to Friday's summit, the DEP is scheduling formal conferences with current and prospective gas exploration companies to go over permit requirements and discuss the proper storage and disposal of drilling and fluids and the registration of water withdrawals.
The Pennsylvania DEP regulates oil and gas exploration and drilling under the state oil and gas laws, and also under federal laws such as the Clean Streams Law, the Dam Safety Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, and the Water Resources Act.
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