State officials seem to talk out of both sides of their mouths when it comes to oil and gas regulations

State oil and gas regulators were in D.C. this week to meet with a subcommittee of the Secretary of Energy's Advisory Board. There was also a hearing on Capitol Hill on natural gas. I didn't attend either event, but I've read quotes from them and they don't all line up with other recent statements from state officials. The quotes are from an article published by "Inside EPA," a subscription publication, so I can't link to the article.

  • According to Inside EPA: Michael Krancer, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, emphasized at a Congressional hearing how his state can serve as a model for other states and even for the federal government. Asked about the consequences of potential federal oversight, Krancer said, “It’s more a question to me why in the world would you’d think about it, when states like Pennsylvania could teach the federal government how to do it, if the federal government were so inclined. We have the program, they don’t.”

Yet an AP story from yesterday reports on a letter that Mr. Krancer just sent to Pennsylvania's Lt. Governor, stating that Pennsylvania's oil and gas laws need to be stronger to protect drinking water from oil and gas pollution. According to the AP article, Pennsylvania now allows drilling as close as 100 feet to a public drinking water supply and 200 feet from a private water well, and the Krancer letter recommends it should be 1,000 feet and 500 feet, respectively. The AP article states that Mr. Krancer's letter discusses other inadequacies in Pennsylvania's oil and gas laws that should be changed to protect public health and safety.

  • According to Inside EPA, Randy Huffman, Secretary of West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection, suggested to the DOE-convened subcommittee that requiring baseline water testing prior to driling might interfere with the property rights of landowners.

In an article today, it is reported that Mr. Huffman "admitted Thursday night that the DEP regulatory process for Marcellus gas wells is inadequate." He also said that West Virginia's regulatory structure "isn't prepared" and that the DEP hasn't fully considered drilling's aggregate effects on water, air, roads, public health and safety. 

  • Inside EPA also reports that David Neslin, executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, indicated to the DOE subcommitee that Colorado requires baseline water testing and that states should be able to choose their own approaches to baseline water testing because of the varying geology.

From the COGCC website, however, it appears that Colorado's approach is to only conduct baseline water testing in select areas of the state, not as a matter of general policy any place in the state where drilling is slated to occur.

State oil and gas regulators have generally been perceived as very defensive, stating that their rules are strong enough and nothing needs to change. That spin shifted a bit when very serious water contamination occurred in various states, and those states, after the contamination, began to update their rules, including Colorado, Pennsylvania, New Mexico, and Wyoming. Now we are seeing state regulators beginning to admit they are overwhelmed, understaffed, or need to improve their rules more. I hope this can be the start of a dialogue based on an honest assessment of how best to protect clean air, clean water, human health , and the environment. But I am not holding my breath.