After years of complaints, DEP to require fracking companies to disclose chemicals used in wells

29 January 2024- The Shapiro Administration, through the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), is implementing new policies that will require operators to publicly disclose chemicals they use in drilling and hydraulic fracturing earlier in the well development process. This step will cover all gas companies following the historic collaboration between the Shapiro Administration and CNX Resources Corporation. 

In implementing this requirement, the Shapiro Administration is also following through on a key recommendation of the 43rd Statewide Grand Jury Report, which Governor Shapiro oversaw as Attorney General. 

The details of which chemicals an operator is using are contained in companies’ site-specific Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency (PPC) plans. Previously, PPC plans were required to be submitted to DEP only upon request. Now, when issuing permits for new unconventional wells, DEP will require the submission of unconventional well operators’ site-specific PPC plans prior to drilling. Moving forward, the PPC documents will be posted online by DEP at PA Oil and Gas Mapping website upon receipt. 

As a result of the historic collaboration with Governor Shapiro, CNX Resources Corporation has already publicly disclosed the chemicals and additives used in its new drilling operations, and has begun posting air monitoring results in real time for two of its well pads, with plans to expand the program across its operations statewide.  

“As Attorney General and now as Governor, I have listened to Pennsylvanians concerned about their health and safety – and I am delivering on the promise I made to them to secure these protections,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “My Administration is setting a new standard for Pennsylvania natural gas to be produced in a responsible, sustainable way and showing how we can bring people together to get things done. We’re going to follow through on our commitment to ensure the health and safety of our communities while maintaining Pennsylvania’s proud energy legacy and our Commonwealth’s critical role in the nation’s energy economy.”  

The Governor’s collaboration with CNX, which addresses many of the recommendations of the 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury, demonstrates how industry, government, and public advocates can find common ground and collaborate to keep people safe and move Pennsylvania forward. 

In addition to the disclosure of chemicals used in drilling, Governor Shapiro has also directed DEP to take action to pursue formal rulemaking and policy changes mirroring the collaboration, including: improved control of methane emissions aligned with the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recently announced performance standards for emission sources in the oil and natural gas sector, stronger drilling waste protections, including inspection of secondary containment, and corrosion protections for gathering lines that transport natural gas.    

As part of this collaboration, DEP will also conduct the most intensive independent study of unconventional natural gas wells in the nation. CNX will provide DEP with unprecedented access to two future CNX well sites, allowing for in-depth, independent monitoring of the air emissions at both locations before, during, and after development of the new wells. This will make it possible for communities to understand the facts about natural gas development with more transparency than ever before.     

“DEP is setting a new standard of transparency for Pennsylvania’s natural gas regulation and policy actions,” said DEP Interim Acting Secretary Jessica Shirley. “Under Governor Shapiro’s leadership, DEP will continue to ensure compliance with Pennsylvania’s environmental laws and regulations that address unconventional well permits. By requiring unconventional gas companies to make their PPC plans publicly available, Pennsylvanians will have a clearer picture of the types of chemicals being used on unconventional well sites earlier in the process.” 

Regulations require well operators to prepare and develop a site-specific PPC plan prior to storing, using, or generating regulated substances on a well site. The PPC plan requires disclosure of “regulated substances,” as defined in 25 Pa. Code § 78a.1. Substances recorded include those from the drilling, alteration, production, plugging, or other activity associated with a gas well or transporting those regulated substances to, on, or from a well site.   

To inform unconventional operators of this new process, DEP will include the new request in every cover letter that is attached to issued unconventional well permits as of January 3, 2024. DEP has also notified unconventional operators and industry groups. PPC plans will be uploaded and made publicly available via the PADEP Office of Oil & Gas Management’s eSubmission application, which can be accessed through DEP’s Greenport. Making this information accessible will ensure communities understand the facts about natural gas development. 

In order to provide a consistent and thorough response, the DEP Office of Oil and Gas Management will conduct the initial reviews of the submitted PPC plans for completeness and compliance with regulations. DEP will also provide training to unconventional gas well operators to ensure compliance with the regulatory planning requirements. With this oversight, DEP can ensure that operators are well-prepared to avoid and address spills and releases, which can have public health and safety implications as well as environmental impacts.