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Pennsylvania seeks to speed well permits

30 Jan 2018 21:29 GMT
Pennsylvania seeks to speed well permits

Houston, 30 January (Argus) — Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf (D) wants to speed the state's environmental review process in a move that could expedite projects but also double permitting fees.

Wolf last week announced the plan to reduce permit backlogs, add 35 staff positions, modernize the permitting process and use technology to improve oversight and efficiency. The governor's office released a white paper on the plan, detailing its review of the current permitting process across the state's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The state's well permitting program is running a $600,000 deficit as revenue has declined amid a slowdown in Marcellus shale drilling activity, the paper said. As the DEP's funding is largely derived from fees associated with well permits, the state will soon release a proposed regulation to increase its well permit fee to $12,500, up from the current fee of $5,000, the paper said.

The Appalachian production region, which encompasses most of Pennsylvania and portions of Ohio, West Virginia and New York, produced 26 Bcf/d (737mn m³/d) in December, up by 13pc from the year earlier, according to estimates from the US Energy Information Administration. But gas rig counts in the Marcellus have dwindled in recent years from a high of 143 units in January 2012 to as low as 21 rigs in August 2016, according to data from oilfield services provider Baker Hughes.

Wolf noted that the department's staff size had dwindled by 43pc to 190 employees since 2006 amid budget cuts. The governor will boost the DEP's 2018-19 budget by $2.5mn to cover the additional staffing costs, allowing the department to hire 35 new employees.

"You cannot cut your way to greater efficiency if all you are cutting is the number of people that do the work," Wolf said.

The white paper listed a few regulatory changes, including extending well permit terms from one year to three years, allowing multiple wells on one well pad site with one application, and allowing adjustments of a well bore location of up to 50 feet from the location initially proposed.

Under the plan the DEP would also expand an electronic permitting system, create a program that tracks the progress of permits and undertake new practices for key development permits.