Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pennsylvania Politician Won't Let Up on Natural Gas Industry

By Jon Hurdle
PHILADELPHIA June 16 (Reuters) - Pennsylvania's top environmental regulator on Wednesday accused the state's natural gas industry of lax safety standards and called for tougher laws to guard against accidents.
John Hanger, secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, said a June 3 blowout of a gas well in central Pennsylvania was the latest in a string of leaks and spills which suggested the industry puts profits before safety.
"I have stated the goal for this industry to be world class," he told the state Senate's environmental resources and energy committee. "We are not there."
Among 1,700 inspections made on gas wells in the Marcellus Shale formation this year, 530 resulted in violation notices, close to the 638 violations for all of 2009, he said.
While some accidents are inevitable in the booming industry, there should be no leaks and spills that threaten to contaminate waterways with toxic chemicals, he said.
"Gas should not migrate, blowouts should not occur, and frack water should not be coming into contact with streams," he said, referring to fluid used in the hydraulic fracturing process for extracting gas.
Hanger called for a law formalizing his department's power to withhold drilling permits to companies that violate environmental laws. Currently, such DEP decisions can be challenged in court.
Energy companies should be legally required to train employees and certify their competence to operate gas wells, Hanger added.
Kathryn Klaber, chief executive of the Marcellus Shale coalition, an industry group, said employees were already trained to a high standard.
"The industry has significant certification and training," she said in a telephone interview.
Hanger called a June 3 well blowout, which resulted in natural gas and an estimated 35,000 gallons of drilling fluid (132,000 litres) escaping, a "near miss" that could have resulted in an explosion. No one was hurt in the incident.
The well is now shut down and its operator, EOG, has been temporarily banned from fracking or completing wells anywhere in Pennsylvania.
Hanger declined to identify the causes of the blowout, the first in the current wave of drilling in the gas-rich Marcellus Shale. He said he would deliver a report next month, after an independent inspector has completed his work. (Editing by Alan Elsner and Michelle Nichols)

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