Rule proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection would strengthen state regulations for casing and cementing oil and gas wells.

Concern Rising about Marcellus Shale Wells

The last of four public hearings about proposed rule changes by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection takes place tonight, and the U.S. Senate HELP Committee holds a field hearing today about safety – both are in Pittsburgh.

Two events taking place today in Pittsburgh, Pa., bring into clear focus the increasing concern about safety of gas and oil well operations in the Marcellus Shale formation. The last of four public hearings about proposed rule changes by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) takes place tonight, and the U.S. Senate HELP Committee holds a field hearing today about safety, with officials from two gas exploration companies and the director of the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Association scheduled to testify.

DEP has been active on this issue during July. The department released an independent report July 13 about the June 3 gas well blowout in Clearfield County that occurred when EOG Resources, the well operator, and contractor C.C. Forbes LLC were performing post-fracturing cleanout activities. DEP fined EOG $353,400 and CC. Forbes $46,600 and ordered EOG – which has 297 active wells in Pennsylvania, including 139 working in the Marcellus Shale -- to suspend operations for 40 days; the report cited untrained personnel and failure to use proper well control procedures as principal causes of the blowout. "The blowout in Clearfield County was caused by EOG Resources and its failure to have proper barriers in place. This incident was preventable and should never have occurred," said DEP Secretary John Hanger.

With the report in hand, DEP sent a letter to every company drilling in the Marcellus Shale telling them they must use at least two pressure barriers during all post-frac cleanout operations, must test blowout preventer equipment immediately after its installation and before its use, and must have at least one well site supervisor with a current well control certification from a recognized institution on location during post-frac cleanout operations.

DEP then proposed stronger state regulations for casing and cementing wells, saying they would prevent gas from migrating from a well and contaminating water supplies. The changes would require pressure-testing casings to be used in Marcellus Shale wells, using oilfield-grade cement, and using blowout preventers. The public hearings began July 21 in Williamsport; comments are due by Aug. 9.

The actions already have had an impact. Fort Worth-based Range Resources Corporation on July 14 announced it will voluntarily disclose Marcellus Shale hydraulic fracturing additives it uses in Pennsylvania gas wells to DEP and post them on its own website, allowing the public to know which highly diluted additives are used in what amounts at each well. "With more than 25 years of responsible operation in the Commonwealth, Range is concerned what Pennsylvanians think about our industry. We understand that there is the perception among some that the additives used in hydraulic fracturing present a risk to the public, even though the Marcellus Shale formation is found more than a mile below the water table. We are committed to achieving the proper balance of pursuing the enormous opportunity that the Marcellus Shale provides and observing a higher standard of care for the environment and the communities where we live and work," said John Pinkerton, the company’s chairman and CEO. Its VP of Environmental & Safety is Mark Hansen, a former ASSE president.

DEP also is investigating a July 13 fire at a Marcellus Shale gas well site operated by Chesapeake Energy in Susquehanna County.

The U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee is conducting a field hearing today in Pittsburgh about safety of gas and oil operations in the Marcellus Shale. The scheduled witnesses are:

  • Robert French, director, Pennsylvania Emergency Management Administration, Harrisburg
  • Anthony Iannacchione, associate professor and director of the Mine Engineering Program, University of Pittsburgh
  • Nicholas DeIullis, president and chief operating officer, CNX Gas Corporation, Pittsburgh
  • June Chappel, a resident of Hopewell Township, Washington County, Pa.
  • Ralph Tijerina, chairman, Safety Committee, Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association; Health, Safety and Environmental director, Range Resources, Canonsburg, Pa.

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