Should Governor Shapiro issue an NOV (Notice of Violation) to DEP?
The DEP has seriously screwed up its conventional oil and gas well database, and the DEP errors have put egg on the face of the Sierra Club. Sierra Club has been looking at DEP data and claiming that many PA conventional oil and gas producers are not producing conventional wells, thus leaving the wells abandoned. For 2 years Sierra Club has advocated for higher conventional well bonding, asserting that higher bonding will stop its claimed “epidemic” of well abandonment.
The conventional industry says THERE IS NO EPIDEMIC. The huge number of abandoned wells in PA are from 50, 100, or even 150 years ago, before the law required plugging of wells! In fact, more than 90% of PA’s abandoned wells were drilled before permitting or bonding were even required. Thus, higher bonding won’t change PA’s abandoned wells…but higher bonding will unnecessarily cripple today’s conventional oil and gas producers.
On June 14, 2023, PA House ERE Committee chairman, Greg Vitali, hosted a meeting of legislators, DEP, conventional oil and gas producers, and the Sierra Club, where abandoned well data was discussed. In making its case, Sierra Club displayed this graph of conventional oil and gas producers who allegedly “abandoned” their wells in 2022 by not producing them.
The conventional oil and gas producers in the room were shocked: they instantly saw that the Sierra Club chart was false.
The next day, the Sierra Club apologized. The Sierra Club trouble-shot the errant chart and discovered that the producers on the Sierra Club chart DID timely submit their production data to DEP back in February. A month later (March 20th) the Sierra Club used the DEP database to create its chart. But the DEP database was wrong; DEP’s database failed to show the 2022 production reported by the conventional producers, and that led to the errant chart. In the apologetic words of the Sierra Club: “Weird”.
Then it got weirder. With its note of apology, the Sierra Club advised that as of 6-15-23 the DEP database was now showing 2022 production for the wells on the Sierra Club chart. On 6-15-23 conventional producers checked the DEP database to make sure the DEP was reporting the same 2022 data submitted by the producers. NOPE. As of 6-15-23 the DEP is reporting 2022 production nearly 100 x’s greater than what conventional producers reported. In other words, the DEP database has gone from showing NO PRODUCTION to PRODUCTION NEARLY 100 x’s MORE THAN ACTUAL.
Incredibly, there are other DEP database errors. In its haste to harvest federal plugging money the DEP has added thousands of conventional wells to its abandoned lists in the last 18 months—some of those additions are clearly erroneous, which, when confronted, DEP does not deny.
Unfortunately, at an April 2023 hearing on HB 962 (to allow DEP to increase conventional well bonding) environmental groups used data from the DEP database to give erroneous testimony. One group testified that today’s conventional producers are abandoning over 500 wells per year (a claim that DEP later admitted its data cannot confirm). The Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) used DEP database information to testify that conventional wells are not being produced—the same erroneous claim contained in the Sierra Club chart. And the DEP abandoned lists still contain wells that absolutely do not belong.
All of these things unfairly defame conventional oil and gas producers. Worse, bad data yields bad policy. HB 962 is bad policy that will gravely and unnecessarily harm the conventional oil and gas industry.
The conventional industry desires good policy. There are not many oil and gas scofflaws—certainly not the outrageous numbers the corrupted DEP database suggests. But scofflaws who abandon wells or otherwise cut corners are bad for the environment and bad for the conventional oil and gas industry. We need an accurate database that truly identifies the scofflaws—not a corrupted database that unfairly maligns a huge segment of the conventional oil and gas industry. Only when the DEP gets its data in order should we be looking at new legislation. HB 962 must go to the trash heap.
Meantime, the DEP database requires major repair.
When the DEP sees a problem it issues an NOV (Notice of Violation), regardless of fault. If a windstorm causes a tree to fall on a well and there is a spill…it results in an NOV. Hopefully, in this case, the erroneous DEP database is the result of some innocent errors—and not the conspiracy that some suspect. But when you are the DEP, you issue an NOV for even the most innocent of problems. So, we call on Governor Shapiro to help fix the situation by issuing an NOV to DEP.
We think Governor Shapiro understands the importance of good data, good policy and fair treatment of small businesses. Governor Shapiro recently said “Small businesses are truly the backbone of Pennsylvania’s economy and communities”. We don’t believe the Governor wants his agencies, like DEP, to put small conventional oil and gas companies out of business or that Governor Shapiro wants to see small businesses unfairly maligned by erroneous DEP data. That means one thing: someone has to hold DEP responsible—DEP has earned an NOV.