Thursday, March 3, 2011

In PA, legislation to referee between coal and gas mining

Photo credit: Sandusky Register

It was inevitable that, with the increasing number of natural gas wells being drilled in expanding areas of Pennsylvania, the rights of new-energy gas would eventually bump up against old-energy coal.

State lawmakers are now moving to establish ground rules for instances when natural gas drillers want to sink their drill bits into land owned by coal companies.

SB 265, sponsored by Senator Mary Joe White, requires that permit applications for gas drilling wells that will penetrate an operating coal mine be accompanied by the written consent of the coal mine operator.

The legislation changes the definitions of  an "active coal mine," "operating coal mine" and "workable coal seam" and, requires that new gas well clusters be located at least 2,000 feet from the nearest well cluster, unless the permit applicant and the owner of the workable coal seam consent in writing.

The bill also requires the Department of Environmental Protection to commission an independent study, funded by the industry, to update the Joint Coal and Gas Committee Gas Well Pillar Study. The study would assess appropriate pillar size around an active/inactive well or well cluster to protect the workable coal seam and ensure the safety of coal miners, as well as any additional criteria or standards that should be considered by the department.

"The purpose of this measure is to provide organized development between natural gas wells and workable coal seams," said Senator White. "Particularly with the increase in natural gas development, Pennsylvania needs clear standards in place for the safe, ordered extraction of these valuable energy sources." 

The environmental bill, which passed the state Senate 45-0 on March 2, now moves on  to the  House of Representatives for consideration.

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