The House Environmental Resources & Energy Committee advanced a bill aimed at updating regulations governing so-called conventional oil and gas drillers. But it is not clear whether the governor will sign the bill into law should it make it to his desk.
Critics say Senate Bill 790 overly loosens regulations for conventional drillers. Conversely, proponents say the changes are needed to put in place more reasonable regulations.
The committee passed the bill by a 16-9 margin, mainly along party lines. All 15 Republicans and one Democrat voted for the bill, which now heads to the full House for consideration.
“We enjoy the best standard of living in this world, and oil and gas had a big part of that,” state Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, said, noting the many products that are made from oil.
State Rep. Danielle Friel Otten, D-Chester, urged her Republican colleagues to vote against the measure and stand up for local governments.
“By enacting laws like this, we tie the hands of our local municipalities to protect families like mine,” Otten said. “… I think we do a disservice to our role as state legislators by stepping on the toes of our local governments to do what is right for their communities to protect the health, welfare and safety of their communities and the unique situations that they face.”
The discussion mostly centered on whether the legislation goes too far in relaxing regulations, but, predictably, the disagreement broke along party lines.
“They’re not asking for reduced regulations; they’re asking for reasonable, responsible regulations,” state Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, said. “They are protecting the environment.”
Before voting on the bill, Causer offered an amendment to reduce from five barrels to two barrels how much oil operators can spill before they must notify state environmental officials. It also lowered from 15 barrels to five how much brine they can spill before alerting state officials.
The amendment, which the committee approved unanimously, would eliminate the use of brine as a dust suppressant or as a road stabilizer on unpaved roads.
The change, however, may not be enough to gain the support of Gov. Tom Wolf should it make it to his desk for consideration.
“This bill still poses an undeniable risk to the health and safety of our citizens, the environment, and our public resources,” NPR quoted J.J. Abbott, a spokesman for Wolf, as saying in a statement.
In October, the state Senate passed its version of the bill by a 26-23 margin. Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, sponsored the bill.