Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act 13, enacted in 2012, was designed by the Department of Environmental Protection to increase the environmental standards of the local oil and gas industry. The act covered a variety of topics, including permitting, bonding, reporting, and new definitions. In particular, the PA Act 13 modified some aspects of well pad spill containment. The legislation related to Act 13 can be viewed in full as a part of House Bill 1950.
The Primary Goals of Act 13
Act 13 increased requirements for water supply protection, setback requirements regarding unconventional gas development, and bactrimsale general environmental protection standards throughout the state. The goal of Act 13 was to increase regulation to reduce the risk of environmental issues while increasing potential penalties for oil and gas companies that did not follow regulatory guidelines. Act 13 disproportionately affected fracking, as many of the provisions were targeted towards “unconventional” wells.
Act 13 initiated new gas and oil permit forms and bonding forms, in addition to well recording requirements and regulations concerning unconventional wells. Unconventional wells were defined by Act 13 as “a well that is drilled into an unconventional formation, which is defined as a geological shale formation below the base of the Elk Sandstone or its geological equivalent where natural gas generally cannot be produced except by horizontal or vertical well bores stimulated by hydraulic fracturing.” Essentially, the unconventional well provisions cover all fracking installations.
Act 13 additionally included provisions for water management plans, which were also to be utilized during hydraulic fracturing. Water management plans included a water reuse plan, both which needed to be approved before drilling could begin.
Act 13 and Spill Containment
There are numerous regulatory changes in Act 13 which concern spill containment, particularly for unconventional well sites. These changes include, but aren’t limited to:
- Ground service and off well spill prevention. Unconventional well sites in Pennsylvania must be constructed and designed with the express purpose of preventing spills on the ground surface or off the well site. According to Act 13, containment “must be in place during … operations and must be sufficiently impervious and able to contain spilled materials.”
- Containment areas must have a certain volume. Containment areas within the well site have to be “designed to hold the volume of the largest container stored in the area,” in addition to another ten percent of liquid.
- Containment must be sufficiently impervious. Any containment materials, such as site liners, have to be impervious to liquids to contain any potential well pad spills. Specifically, these containment materials have to have a “coefficient of permeability of no greater than 1 x 10-10 cm/sec.” This is a rating that describes how quickly a liquid would permeate the material.
- A containment plan must meet basic requirements. The requirements of a containment plan are specific containment practices and specific containment systems. In other words, the company must have a plan for dealing with containment in addition to having systems already in place to prevent potential contamination.
Act 13 is nuanced and includes a variety of act-specific and industry-specific terms and definitions. The Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania can be consulted regarding Act 13 requirements and compliance.