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Pennsylvania Oil And Gas Well Drilling Increased In 2017 After Two Years Of Decline

Alex Brandon
In this Oct. 14, 2011, file photo, a drilling rig is set up to tap gas from the Marcellus Shale gas field, near a barn in the Susquehanna County township of Springville, Pa.

The Department of Environmental Protection has released its 2017 Oil and Gas Annual Report, which revealed 2,231 oil and gas well drilling permits were issued last year; it's the first increase in activity since 2014.

Scott Perry, deputy secretary of the DEP's Office of Oil and Gas Management, said this jump is directly related to the price of oil and gas.

"Natural gas prices have rebounded slightly, as have oil prices," Perry said. "The industry responds to those prices by drilling more wells to capture the profits."

But drilling activity is still far below the boom years of 2010 and 2011, when more than 5,000 wells were drilled each year.

The report also revealed there was a steep climb in violations reported by the DEP at oil and gas well sites -- over 4,000 violations in 2017 compared to 2,290 in 2016. However, Perry said that's because the department now counts every day of an ongoing violation as a new transgression, wheras before a violation would be counted just once.

"It looks as if there was a significant increase in the total number of violations, when in fact the violations in 2017 were quite comparable to 2016," Perry said. He added this change in reporting is meant to improve transparency.

More than $3.5 million in fines tied to violations were collected last year. This was a significant decrease from $9.7 million collected in 2016 -- however, that year's fines were mostly from nine large violations.

Last year, the DEP launched mobile inspections, where an inspector goes out into the field and marks any violations on a tablet computer. That information is then uploaded to the internet, and people can go online and look at past records for any oil or gas well in Pennsylvania.

The full report can be viewed here.

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.