A Republican bill to relax regulations on the shallow oil and gas drilling that has gone on in Pennsylvania for more than a century passed the state House Tuesday despite firm opposition from Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf.
The GOP-majority chamber voted 111-84 for a proposal that covers permits, rules for wells, spills and enforcement for drilling that does not include the much deeper wells tapping into the Marcellus Shale formation.
Backers say the bill is needed because "conventional" well operators can't afford to meet tougher standards designed for Marcellus Shale production.
"Our producers are not opposed to regulations, which is why we have this bill in front of us," said Rep. Kathy Rapp, R-Warren, who voted for it. "But we want fair regulations, not the same regulations for the big Marcellus guys."
Wolf's legislative affairs secretary, Will Danowski, said in a letter to lawmakers sent Tuesday that the administration was strongly opposed, warning the bill would harm the environment and lessen landowner protections.
"The administration acknowledges that the conventional industry is facing particular challenges and is in need of a legislative solution," Danowski wrote. "However, the bill in its current form is unworkable, and a new product needs to be crafted."
Eighteen Republicans , mostly from the Philadelphia suburbs, voted no, while 12 Democrats supported it, many from rural parts of western Pennsylvania where many of the shallow wells are located.
Danowski said the bill would allow up to 210 gallons of crude oil or 630 gallons of brine to be spilled before a report to state regulators is required. Several supporters argued the state already spreads much more brine than that to melt snow and ice from roads in the winter, or control dust in the summer.
He also said it would relax standards to prevent water contamination and put more methane gas into the atmosphere through uncapped wells.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Marty Causer, R-McKean, said 2012 regulations for Marcellus Shale have proven to be a burden on the shallow well drillers, and called his proposal "responsible, reasonable regulations."
The bill was sent to the Senate.