The oil producers say they want the state to follow the law, just as the state requires the oil industry to follow the law.
They want the Department of Environmental Protection to follow a 2014 law that requires the DEP to develop different regulations for conventional drilling – like the area’s traditional wells – and unconventional wells, such as the hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.
The argument, according to PIPP’s attorney Christopher Carusone, is the regulations would require the same remediation from small drillers that’s required for huge corporations drilling for shale gas.
By estimates given to Carusone during his research, oil would have to reach $90 a barrel for it to be profitable for the small drillers under the new regulations.
More than 100 independent oil producers attended a court hearing in Harrisburg Thursday. The Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers filed the lawsuit on March 24.
Mark Cline, the executive director of PIPP, said Thursday’s hearing went well. At one point, the judge asked the DEP’s attorney if the governor’s objective was to put the conventional oil and gas producers out of business.
Cline also said the judge on the case stopped when coming out of chambers, shocked that his 100-seat courtroom was packed beyond capacity.
State Sen. Scott Hutchinson, who represents a large number of the independent producers, backs the PIPP lawsuit. He said the DEP has failed to follow a 2014 law that requires different regulations for conventional drilling vs. unconventional drilling.
“The DEP has failed across the board in redefining regulations for the different drilling,” Hutchinson said. “It’s like piling on during a time when producers are struggling because of low prices.”
Hutchinson was not at the hearing but had a staff member there who reported to him. The state senator was integral in helping the 2014 law get passed.
Hutchinson said he thinks that if DEP is allowed to move forward it will shut down independent producers and end the 155-year-old industry.
“The reason the courtroom was packed,” he said, “is becasue these guys have no work to do right now. The guys in the oil patch are scrambling for any work, any help.”
Hutchinson said the DEP has failed to create the new regulations it was required to following the passage of the 2014 law, known in the industry as “bifurcation law.”
Carusone said the regluations as such treat the small producers and the larger companies as through they were the same. A small spill of mere gallons is treated the same as a significant spill from one of these major producers.
More specifically, because of PennGrade’s unique composition, it’s more amenable to bioremedition techniques in use for decades. New reguations would could require extensive removal of land, including digging under streams.
Hutchinson said the political appointees at the top of the DEP have a problem with fossil fuels in general. That’s why DEP didn’t heed the 2014 law.
“The DEP should have gone back to the drawing board, starting from scratch, to develop separate regulations,” he said. “They never did that.”
Additionally, Hutchinson said, as the DEP geared up for more shale gas drilling than has happened, they hired more regulators. Now the regulators need work to do so they’re roaming the woods look for small producers with minor issues.
Carusone expressed frustration that it took a group of private citizens with private money to get a governmental agency to obey the law. And the DEP is represented by an attorney paid for by taxpayers.
“How can an agency break the law while making the law?” Carusone asked. “How can you have an agency illgeally promulgate regulations and then expect those affected to stick to the letter of the law?”