DEP releases annual oil and gas report, highlighting 2020 goals

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently released its 2019 Oil and Gas Annual Report, which highlights the DEP Office of Oil and Gas Management’s accomplishments in 2019 and its goals for 2020.

Pennsylvania was the second-largest natural gas producer in the United States in 2019, second only to Texas. The state produced approximately 6.8 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from unconventional gas wells.

Production in 2019 was the largest in a single year. In 2012, production was slightly more than 2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.

There was a total of 787 oil and gas wells. Of these, 171 conventional oil wells were drilled, 41 unconventional natural gas wells were drilled into the Utica and Point Pleasant geologic formations, 554 unconventional gas wells drilled into the Marcellus geologic formation, and 21 unconventional wells were drilled in other formations.

Statewide, there were 57 underground gas storage fields either in active use or in idle status, according to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

Last year, the agency issued 239 erosion and sediment control general permits and 1,705 oil and gas drilling permits and authorizations.

The agency also conducted oversight of the state’s oil and gas producers.

In 2019, DEP issued approximately 400 Notices of Violation to unconventional and conventional operators for failure to submit well integrity reports, 83 Notices of Violation to unconventional operators that did not submit production reports, and 3,363 Notices of Violation to conventional operators.

DEP collected $4.09 million in fines and penalties related to non-compliance at oil and gas sites.

As a consequence of these notices and fines, more than 500 new operators registered to use DEP’s online electronic oil and gas applications via the DEP Greenport web portal.

“DEP will continue to improve environmental protections for oil and gas development while providing certainty for operators and the people that live, work, and play near Pennsylvania’s oil and gas communities,” Patrick McDonnell, DEP secretary, said. “We are remaining vigilant in our oversight of the industry and bringing enforcement actions against companies that violate the laws and regulations of Pennsylvania.”

Of the fluids produced while drilling, approximately 90 percent were recycled and/or reused.

The typical conventional oil and gas well consumes between 20,000 and 50,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid while producing oil or gas. The typical unconventional gas well uses between 15 and 20 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid to produce natural gas.

Hydraulic fracturing fluid is water containing lubrication chemicals to prevent mold and scale from building up in the wellbore.

Fracturing fluid that returns to the surface after the hydraulic fracturing process is called produced fluids.

Produced fluids that could not be reused were generally disposed in Class II Underground Injection Control disposal wells. These fluids represent approximately 8 percent of produced fluids.

Another 2 percent were managed via other methods, including wastewater treatment.

Statewide, there were 11 active Class II Underground Injection Control disposal wells. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is responsible for these facilities. DEP reviews the permit applications to ensure state regulatory requirements are met.

The majority of produced fluids are transported to Ohio, West Virginia, and other neighboring states.

According to eFACTS, there are 11,953 orphan and abandoned wells in the state: 8,534 unplugged orphan/abandoned wells and 3,419 plugged orphan/abandoned wells.

“We know there are thousands of old, abandoned wells in Pennsylvania, but we don’t know how to quantify the threat these wells pose to our environment, especially from a climate change angle,” said McDonnell. “This research will help us put that into perspective and help guide how to prioritize well-plugging in the future.”

DEP is working to identify the location of remaining wells to be decommissioned appropriately, but the agency believes this task will take decades.

Thousands of oil and gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania between the mid-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The age of these wells means many were abandoned by their owners without notifying DEP or other state agencies.

DEP estimates there are approximately 200,000 unaccounted abandoned oil and gas wells. If not plugged properly, these wells can cause pollution and other public safety risks.

A $150 per oil well permit surcharge and a $250 per gas well surcharge were authorized by the 2012 Oil and Gas Act finance the Orphan and Abandoned Well Plugging Funds.

Funds go toward the cost of properly plugging all orphan and abandoned wells, but are insufficient to reduce the number of unplugged orphan and abandoned wells for hundreds of years.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition issued a statement regarding the report.

“Natural gas production and water recycling rates continue to break records, which is good for our economy and our environment,” coalition president David Spigelmyer said. “And we’re doing so with an exceptional inspection compliance rate, reflecting our commitment to safety, operational excellence, and public health. These achievements are enhancing air quality, lowering energy costs for consumers and families, and creating opportunities for good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Melina Druga

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