PA Act 9 and Well Site Safety
On November 20, 2012, The PA Environmental Quality Board (EQB) presented its final rulemaking regarding unconventional wellsite safety under PA Act 9. The EQB is a 20-member independent board that adopts all of the Department of Environmental Protection’s regulations. It is chaired by the Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection.
Since PA Act 9 was signed into law in February of 2012, industry groups and companies active in unconventional drilling operations have been working to develop standards for compliance with new well site safety regulations. The law provides that the Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) and Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) “shall adopt emergency regulations directing the operators of all unconventional wells within this Commonwealth to register street and GPS addresses, to post signs, and to develop and implement emergency response plans.“
Background of PA Act 9
In 2011, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission was established through Executive Order 2011-01 issued by PA Governor Tom Corbett. According to the Executive Order, the Commission was created to “develop a comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale.” Additionally, the commission would “complete a review of existing and proposed statutes, legislation, regulation and policies that regulate or affect Marcellus Shale natural gas development in the Commonwealth and provide analysis and recommendations…”
Municipal Responsibility and Well Site Safety
In its final report to the Governor, the Commission noted that “municipalities have a legal responsibility for planning for and responding to all types of emergencies.”
The Commission made two recommendations that relate to this regulation:
9.3.1: Oil and gas well pads and related facilities should be assigned a 9-1-1 address for emergency response purposes, and oil and gas operators should be required to provide GPS coordinates for access roads and well pad sites, and post this information, along with appropriate emergency response contact information, in a conspicuous manner at the well pad site.
9.3.2: In coordination with PEMA and [the Department], emergency plans for responding to incidents on well development sites should be standardized across the Commonwealth to ensure an acceptable level of expectation for safety and response coordination. The emergency plan should be distributed to the county emergency management coordinator.
Pennsylvania Emergency Response Agency (PEMA) Develops the Regulations
With the passage of Act 9, PEMA began working with industry to draft regulations that would satisfy the legislation. In particular, Bill Burkett from Range Resources was instrumental in contributing to the process and often spoke about it at the STEPS of PA bi-monthly meeting. Preliminary slides presented by Bill at the STEPS meeting are available here, or on the STEPS of PA website. PEMA regulations were due at the end of 2012.
Emergency Response Planning at Unconventional Well Sites
Amendments to 25 Pa Code Chapter 78:
- Section 78.1 – New definitions for “unconventional formation” and unconventional well” are taken from section 3203 of the 2012 Oil and Gas Act.
- New Section 78.55 (b)(2) – definitions of terms used in Act 9.
- New Section 78.55 (b)(3) – requires registration of street addresses and GPS coordinates needed by emergency first responders to locate well sites.
- New Section 78.55 (b)(4) – signage requirements, largely taken from PennDOT regulations
- New Section 78.55 (b)(5) – requirements for emergency response planning. Using concepts from the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the plan must outline the procedure for providing information, including Material Safety Data Sheets, to emergency responders.
Emergency response plans may consist of a base plan common to all of an operator’s well sites, along with site-specific plans for each well site with information relevant to that site. The initial emergency response plan must be submitted to PEMA, the Department, the county emergency management agency and the “Public Safety Answering Point” prior to drilling operations. Annual updates must be submitted after that, although if there are no changes needed to the plan, the operator must only submit a statement to that effect.
Final Recommendations Presented by PA Environmental Quality Board (EQB)
Emergency Certification Final Omitted Rulemaking: Emergency Response Planning at Unconventional Well Sites (25 Pa Code Chapter 78, Subchapter I)
Final rulemaking was presented by the EQB at the November 20, 2012 meeting. A powerpoint presentation of the final rulemaking can be viewed here.
The board presented the following timeline for phasing in the three main regulation groups:
- Addresses – 30 days after effective
- Planning – 90 days after effective
- Signage – 180 days after effective
Review the references below for more information about developments and how they will affect your well site operations and responsibilities.
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