Morgan Caplan, Morgan.Caplan@sierraclub.org
Harrisburg, PA – Today, by a vote of 18 to zero with one abstention, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board voted to dismiss a rulemaking petition to raise oil and gas bonds for conventional wells in Pennsylvania originally filed by the Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Earthworks, Mountain Watershed Association, PennFuture, and Protect Penn-Trafford in the fall of 2021.
The dismissal was preceded by a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recommending the petition be dismissed due to the passage of Act 96 last summer, which stripped the Environmental Quality Board’s authority to raise oil and gas bond amounts for conventional wells. The report from state regulators did not address the overall merits of the petition.
It also comes just six months after another DEP report was released on conventional drilling in Pennsylvania detailing the conventional oil and gas industry’s widespread disregard for environmental regulations, including regularly abandoning their own wells. Pennsylvania’s conventional drillers are not only mismanaging their businesses and socializing the cleanup of their wells to the state and its taxpayers, but they’re also using federal dollars to clean up wells with identifiable owners.
In a recent Capital Forum Report, it was identified that there are over a thousand cases of supposedly “orphaned wells” in Pennsylvania that have been tied to active operators who should have a financial obligation to clean them up. Instead, some of these same operators are bidding to win federal contracts to plug wells with taxpayer dollars. These bids for orphan well plugging reveal cracks in the state’s ability to accurately track well ownership – allowing active operators to further exploit states’ processes to offload their retirement obligations including by having federal funds used to clean up their messes.
All in all, Pennsylvanians end up bearing the financial burden and the environmental costs – like leaking benzene from abandoned wells – rather than the industry responsible for the wells in the first place.
“Time and time again, this industry is given handouts. The legislature’s passage of Act 96, which led directly to the dismissal of our petition, is just another prime example of favoritism toward the industry,” Kelsey Krepps, Senior Campaign Representative, said. “Sierra Club will not stop in our efforts to make drillers clean up their own mess and continue to push for critical reforms – like raising bond amounts – that encourage faster plugging of wells and reduce the climate and health consequences that Pennsylvanians have been subjected to for generations.”
“Oil and gas companies will continue to recklessly abandon wells and pollute Pennsylvania communities until our state government requires them to set aside adequate funds to clean up their mess,” said Melissa Ostroff, Earthworks Pennsylvania Policy and Field Advocate. “DEP affirms what we know to be true: that current bonding requirements are not enough to protect Pennsylanians. Yet DEP denied this petition because the legislature shamelessly stripped the agency of its authority to do so. We cannot allow operators to keep walking away from the messes they create. Pennsylvanians have a right to a clean, healthy environment and they deserve nothing less.”