CBS Baltimore | 4 January 2017

Maryland Legislative Committee Puts Hold on Hydraulic Fracturing Regulations

A panel of state lawmakers is delaying regulations for hydraulic fracturing for natural gas in western Maryland.

The Administrative, Executive, and Legislative Review Committee asked the Department of the Environment on 29 December to delay adopting the regulations. Final adoption would have occurred on 30 December.

The panel’s letter says it wants to study the regulations further. The committee requested copies of public comments on the proposed rules.

Agency spokesman Jay Apperson says the department will provide the material.

The committee’s action delays adoption of the rules at least into the legislative session, which begins11  January.

StateImpact | 30 December 2016

Court Tells EPA To Review Its Rules on Oil and Gas Waste

A federal court directed the US Environmental Protection Agency to review and possibly update its regulations on oil and gas waste in a decision that was welcomed by environmental groups who had sued the agency, claiming its rules have failed to keep pace with the hydraulic fracturing boom.

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a fracturing water recycling plant in Susquehanna County. Credit: Susan Phillips/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

A truck delivers drilling waste water to a fracturing water recycling plant in Susquehanna County. Credit: Susan Phillips/StateImpact Pennsylvania.

The US District Court for the District of Columbia issued a consent decree late 28 December saying the EPA must review the regulations and if necessary issue a new rule if it deems an update to be appropriate. The actions must take place by March 2019, the court said.

The consent decree, which is designed to settle a dispute between two parties without either admitting guilt or liability, is the outcome of a lawsuit against EPA by seven environmental groups who claimed that the agency has failed to review oil and gas waste regulations as required every 3 years under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act of 1976.

In the suit, filed in May, the plaintiffs said existing regulations are too weak to stop the escape of toxic materials such as benzene and mercury that have been used in the hydraulic fracturing boom since the mid-2000s.

The Oklahoman | 14 December 2016

Oklahoma Regulators Looking at New Earthquake Protocols for Energy Companies

Oklahoma regulators for the first time are expected to release industry guidelines on the small number of earthquakes possibly linked to hydraulic fracturing, a departure from their recent focus on the connections to wastewater disposal wells used in oil and gas development.

The hydraulic fracturing plan is expected to be released along with tougher, new directives on wastewater disposal wells linked to seismic activity near Cushing and Pawnee, Oklahoma Corporation Commission spokesman Matt Skinner said.

Recent earthquakes south and west of the Oklahoma City area prompted scientists and regulators to look again at possible links to hydraulic fracturing. Those areas fall outside two regional wastewater reduction plans for disposal wells unveiled earlier this year by the Corporation Commission.

Four earthquakes ranging from magnitude 3.4 to 3.0 struck south and southwest of Blanchard this summer. In Canadian County, three earthquakes of magnitude 3.3 and 3.1 hit south of Calumet in November. Both areas are in the fast-growing South Central Oklahoma Oil Province and Sooner Trend Anadarko Basin Canadian and Kingfisher Counties plays.

“This is part of a continuous, ever-evolving approach when it comes to seismicity,” Skinner said. “The bulk of our concern is obviously up in the main earthquake areas like Cushing and Pawnee. But we have been providing data and working with the Oklahoma Geological Survey on the issue of hydraulic fracturing and seismicity. It is something we hope to complete work on soon, but quite frankly, our highest priority is up in the main earthquake area.”

Drilling Contractor | 6 December 2016

Regulatory Outlook: Air Quality, Methane Waste Prevention Rules on the Horizon While Industry Still Working To Clarify Well Control Rule

As the current administration draws to a close and the US prepares for the incoming president and Congress, several new regulations have recently been proposed or finalized by various regulatory bodies.

BSEE Director Brian Salerno testified before the US Senate and Natural Resource Committee in December 2015 regarding the then-proposed Well Control Rule. The final rule was announced in April 2016 and officially took effect on 28 July. However, the industry is still working with BSEE to get clear answers to questions about several of the rule’s requirements.

BSEE Director Brian Salerno testified before the US Senate and Natural Resource Committee in December 2015 regarding the then-proposed Well Control Rule. The final rule was announced in April 2016 and officially took effect on 28 July. However, the industry is still working with BSEE to get clear answers to questions about several of the rule’s requirements.

Three items of concern are especially notable on the regulatory horizon: the Well Control Rule from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), the Air Quality Rule from the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), and the Methane Waste Prevention Rule from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). For many in the industry, the timing of these rules and proposals are clear attempts to push through new regulations before the current administration ends in January.

OSHA | 2 December 2016

OSHA Issues Final Rule Updating Walking-Working Surfaces Standards and Establishing Personal Fall Protection Systems Requirements

The US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) on 17 November issued a final rule updating its general industry Walking-Working Surfaces standards specific to slip, trip, and fall hazards. The rule also includes a new section under the general industry personal protective equipment standards that establishes employer requirements for using personal fall protection systems.

“The final rule will increase workplace protection from those hazards, especially fall hazards, which are a leading cause of worker deaths and injuries,” said Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health David Michaels. “OSHA believes advances in technology and greater flexibility will reduce worker deaths and injuries from falls.” The final rule also increases consistency between general and construction industries, which will help employers and workers that work in both industries.

OSHA estimates the final standard will prevent 29 fatalities and more than 5,842 injuries annually. The rule becomes effective on 17 January 2017 and will affect approximately 112 million workers at 7 million worksites.

The final rule’s most significant update is allowing employers to select the fall protection system that works best for them, choosing from a range of accepted options including personal fall protection systems. OSHA has permitted the use of personal fall protection systems in construction since 1994, and the final rule adopts similar requirements for general industry. Other changes include allowing employers to use rope descent systems up to 300 ft above a lower level; prohibiting the use of body belts as part of a personal fall arrest system; and requiring worker training on personal fall protection systems and fall equipment.

Under the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970, employers are responsible for providing safe and healthful workplaces for their employees. OSHA’s role is to ensure these conditions for America’s working men and women by setting and enforcing standards, and providing training, education, and assistance.

StateImpact | 22 November 2016

New Methane Rules Coming for Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Industry

Pennsylvania regulators are soon planning to introduce new regulations to reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas industry, despite expectations President-Elect Donald Trump may seek to roll back new federal rules.

Credit: Joe Ulrich/WITF.

Credit: Joe Ulrich/WITF.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global climate change.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is expected to unveil new general permit requirements for Marcellus Shale well pads at a meeting of its Air Quality Technical Advisory Committee on 8 December. A broader regulatory package, designed to curb methane leaks from existing sources, is expected in early 2017.

“A lot of these issues now revert to the states to take action,” said Matthew Stepp, policy director for the environmental advocacy group PennFuture. “The environmental community is rightly concerned at the federal government reversing course.”

Jones Day via Mondaq | 4 November 2016

EPA Issues Guidelines Addressing VOC Emissions From Oil and Gas Sector

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is adopting guidelines that will ultimately require oil and gas sources in certain areas with elevated ozone concentrations to implement emissions controls for volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Some of the areas subject to the new guidance are in states with significant oil and gas activity, such as California, Colorado, Pennsylvania, and Texas.

The EPA links elevated ambient ozone concentrations with human health impacts, and the federal Clean Air Act therefore requires the imposition of reasonable control measures. The guidelines will have the additional effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as many of the VOCs that will be controlled are also greenhouse gases.

The Associated Press | 4 November 2016

Oklahoma Regulators Close Wells, Reduce Volumes After Quake

Oil and natural gas regulators in Oklahoma are ordering the operators of 70 disposal wells to either shut them down or reduce disposal volumes after a 4.5 magnitude earthquake shook northern Oklahoma.

The Oklahoma Corporation Commission said on 3 November that the new guidelines affect 38 disposal wells within 15 miles of the quake’s epicenter that are under its jurisdiction and another 32 wells under the sole jurisdiction of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Akin Gump Strauss Hauer and Feld via Mondaq | 25 October 2016

EPA to the Oil and Gas Industry: The Request Is in the Mail

It looks like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will have its own scary treat for the oil and gas industry this Halloween—an information request under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act designed to help the EPA regulate methane emissions from those facilities. The EPA submitted the request for the Office of Management and Budget’s approval on 29 September 2016, starting a 30-day clock for interested parties to comment. That means the request could go out to the more than 18,000 affected facilities as early as November 2016.

The request will require a typical recipient, within 30 days, to report the number and location of each oil- or gas-production facility; whether flare or thermal combustors are used; and the number and types of atmospheric tanks, separators, dehydrators, reciprocating processors, and dry- or wet-seal centrifugal compressors used at the facility. In addition, a limited number of respondents within each industry segment will be required to complete a much more detailed Part 2 Facility Survey, requiring detailed design, operational, and regulatory information regarding a diverse range of facility equipment, including emission-control devices, production well injection storage wells, tanks, separators, pneumatics, acid gas removal units, dehydrators, equipment leaks, compressors, blowdown events, and acid gas removal units. Companies selected for the more detailed survey would have 120 days to submit their reports.

Philadelphia Inquirer | 17 October 2016

Shale Industry Sues To Block New Pennsylvania Drilling Rules

The shale-gas industry on 13 October filed a legal challenge to block controversial new rules intended to reduce the surface effects of oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania.

Aerial view in 2014 of a Marcellus Shale drilling operation near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Credit: Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer.

Aerial view in 2014 of a Marcellus Shale drilling operation near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. Credit: Michael Bryant/Philadelphia Inquirer.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the trade group representing unconventional-gas producers, on 13 October asked the Commonwealth Court to delay implementation of the new drilling regulations until its appeal can be decided. The new rules went into effect on 15 October.

The legal action is the latest skirmish over regulation of the shale-gas industry, which critics say was able to grow rapidly in Pennsylvania under old rules designed for less-intensive drilling. The industry says that the state’s laws already are among the nation’s most stringent and that the new rules add more burdens without improving environmental protection.

The shale coalition says it is not challenging the entire package of Department of Environmental Protection regulations, known as Chapter 78a of the Pennsylvania Code. The lawsuit, assembled by the Pittsburgh law firm Babst Calland, takes narrow aim at specific provisions that the industry says are vague or are unsupported by authorizing legislation.

“These shortcomings are immediately harmful to our industry because they affect our ability to conduct business and remain competitive,” said David J. Spigelmyer, the president of the shale coalition.

PowerSource | 11 October 2016

Pennsylvania Publishes New Rules for Shale Drillers

An array of stricter environmental regulations for Pennsylvania shale gas drilling took effect on 8 October, opening a new phase of legal challenges to the rules after a punishing 5-year effort to get them published.

A Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig near Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

A Consol Energy horizontal gas drilling rig near Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania. Credit: Mladen Antonov/AFP/Getty Images.

The state Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP’s) new regulations update requirements for aboveground operations at oil and gas well sites for the first time since 2001 and reflect heightened scrutiny of the industry since Marcellus Shale drilling revolutionized natural gas production in Pennsylvania.

In a statement, Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said the rules “create some of the most protective regulations in the nation and ensure safe development of this important resource.”

Oil and gas trade groups have already signaled that they plan to file lawsuits to challenge some of the standards, which they consider excessively burdensome and expensive without substantially improving environmental protection.

Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association executive director Dan Weaver said the industry “has been consistent in identifying significant legal problems with these regulations, yet the department has refused to change even the most glaring and obvious errors and overreaches.”

Major changes include new procedures for shale gas companies to screen for protected public resources and underground hazards around their proposed wellsites before drilling; new waste handling and spill cleanup standards; the elimination of most pits; and new construction standards for large fluid holding ponds.

Argus | 11 October 2016

EPA Commits To Review Emissions From Drilling Sites

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on 7 October committed to take a closer look at the decades-old formulas it uses to estimate the volume of smog-forming emissions from flares at natural gas production sites.

That review, which EPA plans to finish in 2018, could lead to tougher air emissions regulations for the industry if the agency finds the flares emit significantly more volatile organic compounds than it thought. Those compounds can create smog when they react in the atmosphere with light and nitrogen oxides.

Emission factors provide a way for regulators to estimate air emissions from industrial facilities without having to install costly air monitors on every piece of equipment. But environmentalists say those EPA-approved formulas frequently underestimate emissions. This can translate into weaker rules when states write plans, called state implementation plans (SIPs), for complying with the Clean Air Act.

“We have got to get a proper accounting of flares to do things like plan our next ozone SIPs or make sure that hazardous air pollutants are not impacting nearby communities,” Air Alliance Houston executive director Adrian Shelley said.