Monday, March 6, 2017

Shale Law Weekly Review - March 6, 2017

Written by Jacqueline Schweichler - Education Programs Coordinator

The following information is an update of recent, local, state, national, and international legal developments relevant to shale gas.

Pennsylvania Projected to Receive $80 Million in Royalties from Drilling
According to StateImpact Pennsylvania , Pennsylvania natural gas drilling in state forests is estimated to generate $80 million in royalties in 2017. This estimate by the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) is $8 million greater than last year’s revenue.  According to a 2016 DCNR fact sheet, the “Marcellus Shale underlies approximately 1.5 million of the 2.2 million-acre state forest system.” The money generated from oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania state forests goes into the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and is to be used for “conservation, recreation, dams, or flood control.”

WOTUS: President Signs Executive Order Reviewing “Waters of the United States” Rule
On February 28, 2017, President Donald J. Trump signed an Executive Order directing the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (Administrator) and the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works (Assistant Secretary) to review the current federal waters of the United States rule (WOTUS).  Upon completion of this review, the Administrator and Assistant Secretary are to propose a new rule either rescinding or revising the current rule.  For future WOTUS rulemaking, “the Administrator and Assistant Secretary shall consider interpreting the term ‘navigable waters,’ as defined in 33 U.S.C. 1362(7), in a manner consistent with the opinion of Justice Antonin Scalia in Rapanos v. United States, 547 U.S. 715 (2006).”

Drilling Company Agrees to $1.2 Million Penalty for Groundwater Contamination
On February 27, 2017, WPX Energy Appalachia (WPX) agreed to a $1.2 million civil penalty for oil and gas impact violations, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection press release. Several private water wells were tested in September of 2012, and an investigation found that the wells were contaminated by an impoundment belonging to WPX. The impoundment was drained, and affected families were provided water treatment systems and bottled water. WPX also will be required to remediate “the soil, groundwater, and any surface waters impacted by the leak.”

Virginia Rejects Bill Allowing Trade Secret Exception in Hydraulic Fracturing Disclosure
On February 13, 2017, House Bill 1678  was rejected by Virginia’s General Assembly. The bill would have allowed oil and gas drilling companies to avoid disclosing hydraulic fracturing chemicals claimed as a trade secret. Under the bill, companies would have been able to invoke the chemical exclusion under the Freedom of Information Act after identifying the protected chemical or material and stating the reason the chemical should not be disclosed. The bill was originally passed in the House by a vote of 59 to 37, but was then rejected by a Senate committee.

CO Department of Health Report Looks at Health Effects of Oil and Gas Operations
On February 21, 2017, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment released a report examining existing data on the potential adverse health effects for individuals living near oil and gas operations. The purpose of the study was to answer the question, “Do substances emitted into the air from oil and gas operations result in exposures to Coloradans living near oil and gas operations at levels that may be harmful to their health?” The report concluded that overall the risk of harmful effects is low for residents living more than 500 feet from operations.  The study is entitled Assessment of “Potential Public Health Effects from Oil and Gas Operations in Colorado.

New Ohio General Permits for Oil and Gas Compressor Stations
On March 2, 2017, the Ohio EPA issued a press release introducing new general permits for oil and gas compressor stations. According to the press release, new applications will allow applicants for the permits to follow a template to determine equipment emissions rather than relying on a case-by-case permit process. So long as all pollutant totals are less than 100 tons per year, the operator will be allowed to apply for the general permit. The purpose of the new permitting system is to “allow the Agency to ensure it protects the environment while freeing up valuable staff resources to work on other complex permit issues.”

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