In a move described as an "Aggressive Action to Protect Public, Environment as Marcellus Drilling Operations Expands," Pennsylvania's Governor Ed Rendell directed the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection ("DEP") to hire 68 new staff members today to work on natural gas well inspections and related oil and gas regulation. The additions will be made despite a moratorium on hiring at the DEP and will be funded entirely from the higher permit fees instituted last year for oil and gas drilling permits. In addition, Rendell commented on the DEP's proposed amendments to the current oil and gas regulations, which will be available for public comment beginning tomorrow, January 29, 2010, saying that the new regulations will:
- Require the casings of Marcellus Shale and other high-pressure wells to be tested and constructed with specific, oilfield-grade cement;
- Clarify the drilling industry’s responsibility to restore or replace water supplies affected by drilling;
- Establish procedures for operators to identify and correct gas migration problems without waiting for direction from DEP;
- Require drilling operators to notify DEP and local emergency responders immediately of gas migration problems;
- Require well operators to inspect every existing well quarterly to ensure each well is structurally sound, and report the results of those inspections to DEP annually; and
- Require well operators to notify DEP immediately if problems such as over-pressurized wells and defective casings are found during inspections.