Shale gas drill

A natural gas well in Washington County

The state Department of Environmental Protection has unveiled its 2019 oil and gas report, which says natural gas production in Pennsylvania increased from the previous year despite a decline in the drilling of new wells.

It was quite a jump, too – to more than six billion cubic feet of extracted gas.

DEP’s report, released this week, comes at a time when supply has outstripped demand globally, resulting in lower commodity prices. The slump has caused some drilling companies to curtail operations, and some to file for bankruptcy protection.

Production across the commonwealth has been rising in recent years, making it one of the top natural gas suppliers among states.

Other highlights in the 2019 report show: 1,705 drilling permits were issued (1,475 unconventional, 230 conventional); 787 wells were drilled (615 unconventional, 172 conventional); DEP found 5,496 violations out of 35,324 inspections; and the agency collected $4.1 million in fines and penalties in 2019

DEP also noted that its permit review process is more efficient, it is seeking new partnerships in dealing with orphan wells and is striving to better manage stormwater at well sites.

Secretary Patrick McDonnell said in a statement that the agency “will continue to improve environmental protections for oil and gas development, while providing certainty for operators and the people who live, work and play near Pennsylvania’s oil and gas communities. We are remaining vigilant in our oversight of the industry and bringing enforcement actions against companies that violate the laws and regulations of Pennsylvania.”

DEP says it has been identifying and plugging orphan and abandoned wells, and estimates there could be 200,000 abandoned oil and gas wells in the state. These wells can leak methane into the air and contaminate groundwater or surface water.

David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, is bullish on the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania. He said in a statement: “Thanks to the tens of thousands of talented and skilled Pennsylvanians across our industry – who work hard each day to protect our environment and the communities where we are privileged to work – the commonwealth remains a global natural gas leader.”

Spigelmyer, whose coalition represents numerous natural gas-related companies, added that: “Natural gas production and water recycling rates continue to break records, which is good for our economy and our environment. And we’re doing so with an exceptional inspection compliance rate, reflecting our commitment to safety, operational excellence and public health.

“These achievements are enhancing air quality, lowering energy costs for consumers and families, and creating opportunities for good-paying manufacturing jobs.”

Business Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won eight individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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