Pennsylvania Takes Steps to Strengthen Gas Liquids Pipeline Safety Rules

The PUC on June 13 announced it is considering two separate rule-making proposals involving safety of pipelines carrying petroleum products and other hazardous materials.

The first is seeking public comment on an advance notice of rulemaking order to be considered in making potential changes to comprehensive safety regulations. The areas that may be addressed include a number of subjects that were problems with the Mariner East II pipeline, which was built across the state, but also resulted in spills, water damage, several shutdowns, and fines.

The second proposal would require that pipeline public utilities would be required to file annual reports of a pipeline’s service life, capital investment plans and other financial reports.

Regulation and Oversight of Pipelines Carrying Natural Gas Liquids

Regulators and legislators are taking a new look at regulation of the pipelines that carry highly valuable gas liquids from the fracking fields of North America to the processing facilities and refineries that convert these liquids into plastics, fuels, and chemical products.

District Attorneys go to Court to Block Flow of Contaminated Gas Drilling Leachate to Treatment Plant

Two Western Pennsylvania district attorneys in May took the unusual step of going to court to block a Westmoreland County landfill from sending water contaminated with gas drilling waste to a nearby treatment plant. The contaminated water, known as leachate, from the
Westmoreland Sanitary Landfill, is primarily precipitation that soaks through the landfill contents, picking up contamination. It is collected and piped to the Belle Vernon Municipal Authority’s treatment plant, and then discharged into the Monongahela River, which is a source of drinking water for residents in
four counties.

West Virginia Court Rulings Highlight Evolving Law on Property Owner Rights

Two recent decisions by the West Virginia Supreme Court
illustrate the evolving legalities over the rights of property owners near gas
drilling operations. In a ruling issued June 5, the court unanimously ruled that
EQT trespassed when it drilled wells on property owned by two Doddridge County
residents to access gas reserves on neighboring properties. While the company had a lease that entitled it to drill for
gas beneath their property, it did not have permission to enter the land to
build a new well pad to take the gas from thousands of acres of adjoining land. Unconventional gas well development involves drilling horizontal
wells deep into the earth, which then are turned laterally and can stretch out
a mile or more. After drilling, a process called hydraulic fracturing is used
that involves pushing fluids and sand under high pressure into the well to
fracture or “frack” the Marcellus Shale layer and allow the gas stored in it to
be released.

EQT Violations Raise Awareness for Sedimentation Control

In dealing with the Municipal Separate Strom Sewer System (MS4), which are state-level stormwater requirements to meet federal Clean Water Act standards, and its permitting requirements, local communities understand better than most how important sediment control is to water quality and how strictly these permitting requirements are regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Local governments, however, are not the only sector beholden to state-level stormwater permitting and regulation. Recently, EQT was fined just over $330,000 for a series of DEP permit violations including failure to control sedimentation runoff, as well as failure to report the runoff. The violations were discovered in February of 2018 in Forward Township, Allegheny County. EQT, based in Pittsburgh, is the country’s largest producer of natural gas.

Bill to Streamline U.S. LNG Exports Reintroduced to Senate

The United States is exporting more liquid natural gas (LNG) than ever before. Data from the Department of Energy show that LNG exports in November of 2018 were 35% higher than the year previous, reaching 110 Bcf. Now, a group of U.S. Senators has reintroduced a bill to decrease regulatory barriers that allow LNG to reach the international market with ease. The collective of four Republican Senators authored and introduced a bill entitled the License Natural Gas Now Act of 2019. A nearly identical bill of the same name was introduced in 2017 but did not pass.

President Trump’s Executive Order Could Change State’s Rights in Natural Gas Permitting Process

The natural gas industry may now have an easier time seeking permits for pipeline projects. A new of executive order signed by President Trump change the dynamic of permitting, and what a state can use as a rationale for denying permits for pipelines and other natural gas development. The permitting process for pipelines is a cumbersome and extensive, but in many ways for good reason. Previous to this executive order, a company seeking to build a pipeline would have to apply for specific permits in each state that it would be built in, which often vary substantially. If an individual state’s environmental policy prohibits natural gas development, then the project is essentially over.

An Indiana County Town has been Ordered to Pay O&G Company’s Legal Fees after Losing Federal Lawsuit

Pennsylvania General Energy (PGE), an oil and gas company, will not have to foot their legal counsel’s bills after battling an Indiana County community in court over a wastewater injection well. A judge for the Western District of Pennsylvania of the U.S. District Court ruled that Grant Township will pay just over $100,000 to PGE. The legal battle began when PGE plans to build a wastewater injection well in Grant Township became public. The plans were immediately met with pushback from the community. In an effort to prevent PGE from moving forward with the injection well project, Grant Township decided to adopt a home rule charter with a special provision disallowing oil and gas development in the township.

Sunoco Settles Suit with Chester County Residents out of Court

Sunoco and parent company Energy Transfer will not have to appear before a Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas to defend themselves against allegations of negligence. The energy giant has settled out of court with three Chester County residents who created a class action lawsuit against Sunoco after a medley of problems they claimed were avoidable. The situation began in late 2017, after the construction of the Mariner East pipelines in a West Whiteland Township neighborhood. The residents had concerns about the location of the pipeline’s path, and ultimately, their worry proved valid in early 2018 when sinkholes began forming under parts of the pipeline. As the pipeline was in close vicinity of the plaintiffs’ homes, they feared future subsidence would potentially damage or engulf their homes.

Study Analyzes PA O&G Industry Environmental Compliance

Researchers from Hong Kong Baptist University and the Chinese University of Hong Kong have published their study analyzing environmental compliance in Pennsylvania. The study, published in the academic journal Resources, Conservation & Recycling, uses statistical testing to empirically examine trends in non-compliance in the natural gas extraction industry. The study examined the number of well inspections conducted by the Department of Environmental Protection, the fines levied for non-compliance and the number of violations before and after inspections was conducted and fines ordered. They had also taken into consideration the size of the firm that owns and operates each well and their geographic location. In sum, the results indicated several trends:

First, conventional and nonconventional wells in the northeastern region of the state were found out of compliance at higher rates than wells in southwestern Pennsylvania.