PA DEP’s Latest Regulatory Initiative – Subsurface Standards for Gas Wells
At the June 25, 2014 meeting of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board meeting, the DEP unveiled their proposed concepts for some new rulemaking that would take place under Title 25 Pa. Code Chapter 78, Subchapters D and H. The Technical Advisory Board was told that these changes would update the existing oil and gas regulations relative to subsurface operations. Although the DEP did not propose any specific language to the Advisory Board, they did identify a number of areas they believed were in need of revision and other areas that needed to be addressed. Areas that were identified by DEP included numerous sections that had not been modified in the 2011 round of rule revisions; some areas that had never been addressed in rulemaking and some changes or additions whose need for was made obvious by field data analysis or observations.
The “conceptual” revisions and additions to Subchapter D are numerous and many have the potential to be significant. Some changes may be beneficial or helpful for oil and gas operators while others, at least in concept, appeared to be overly prescriptive and raised concern with the Board. For example, DEP suggested changes to the requirements for blow-out preventers, to the general standards for well construction and operation, and to gas venting, casing and cementing, mechanical integrity testing, stray gas migration responses and well logs and reporting. Some new areas under consideration for rulemaking included coalbed methane wells, seismic wells and induced seismicity. DEP also offered concepts to revise well plugging standards and underground gas storage.
Overall, this has all the markings of a major undertaking by the DEP. One concern expressed by the Board went to the personnel and resource commitment that would be required by the DEP (and ultimately the industry) to complete this new rulemaking effort while that agency was still in the midst of its other major Chapter 78 effort – Subchapter C, the Environmental Standards for Oil and Gas Operations.
In addition to offering comments and suggestions as the DEP moved through its proposal, the Advisory Board did offer to take the lead in organizing industry subject matter meetings with the agency to provide early and meaningful input on some of the more technical issues being considered. It is hoped that early input on these technical issues will make for a more acceptable proposed rule that will ultimately minimize industry objections and concerns.