A Marcellus shale gas-drilling site along PA Route 87, Lycoming County. Nicholas A. Tonelli | Flickr Commons
Producing more than 7.1 trillion cubic feet of natural gas, Pennsylvania ranked second among states for natural gas production in 2020, a state record for gas production in a single year.
But the record-setting natural gas production comes with increased infractions, according to a new report from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
DEP’s 2020 Oil and Gas Annual Report found that while natural gas production soared to record levels in 2020, so too did compliance violations.
The report noted that of the 25,883 inspections conducted in 2020, the agency found a total of 9,363 total compliance violations, a 41 percent increase from the 2019 total of 5,496.
A breakdown of the violations shows that 4,300 of the violations were administrative/well site violations, such as failures to submit various reports and plans.
When the type of well was specified, another 3,967 violations were logged from conventional (or traditional) wells and 1,096 were from unconventional wells, such as wells where hydraulic fracturing (fracking) is used.
From the increased violations, the department says it collected $33.3 million in fines and penalties related to non-compliance at oil and gas sites in Pennsylvania in 2020, an increase of more than $29.2 million from the $4 million in fines and penalties collected in 2019.
The department largely attributes the increase in compliance violations to the COVID-19 pandemic, which prevented DEP inspectors from visiting active well sites to limit human exposure.
With COVID-19 mitigation measures keeping inspectors from active sites, inspectors turned their attention to “inspections at well sites such as pipelines and completed well sites where human interaction was minimized and administrative inspections.”
DEP noted in the report that this change caused a “significant increase in the number of observed erosion and sedimentation violations and well-plugging related violations than in prior years. DEP inspectors observed a higher number of administrative violations such as the failure of operators to submit annual production and well integrity reports.”
The money collected from these violations reimburses the department for oil and gas operating and oversights costs, according to the report.
“DEP will continue to improve systems to better serve the commonwealth and will remain vigilant in regulating the commonwealth’s oil and gas industry,” DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell said last week in a statement announcing the findings.
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