Restore Conservation District Oversight Of Gas Wells?
Potter County Commissioners Doug Morley, Paul Heimel and Susan Kefover have become actively involved in a lobbying effort to restore county conservation districts’ role in reviewing erosion and sedimentation plans for gas and oil drilling operations. With the support of Potter County, birthplace of the first conservation district in the state, a resolution will be presented to the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) next month.
Assuming it draws majority support, the measure will authorize CCAP to push for legislative approval. That resolution seeks reversal of a 2009 DEP policy that stripped conservation districts of their long-held erosion and sedimentation permitting authority for oil and gas drilling sites. DEP moved to centralize permit review for drilling with its regional oil and gas offices. At the same time, this move took review authority for those plans away from county conservation districts, whose staffs are more familiar with local environmental issues and trained to deal with issues encountered in the field.
The Public Education Committee from the Potter County Natural Gas Task has investigated the level of DEP staffing for natural gas drilling sites in the region. According to Bruce Jankura, DEP’s oil and gas inspector supervisor, the Mansfield office is staffed with two inspectors who are responsible for the oversight of drilling sites — existing and new — for all of Potter, Tioga and Cameron counties and the western section of Bradford County.
Jankura said that although there are 13 steps in the drilling process that could be inspected, all of them cannot possibly be monitored, so DEP attempts to monitor a limited number of steps at each well. He said there is no requirement that an inspector be present during hydrofracturing. The same two inspectors responsible for the compliance monitoring responsibilities during drilling are also charged with responding to complaints in those four counties, Jankura said.
Commissioner Heimel introduced the conservation district resolution to CCAP’s Energy, Environment and Land Use Committee, on which he serves. A companion resolution, which will be considered by the CCAP statewide membership next month, supports state regulation and registration of local natural gas “gathering lines” (pipelines), which are currently not subject to regulation.