Emergency Response Planning at Pennsylvania Unconventional Well Sites

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On February 2, 2012, Governor Corbett signed into law Act 9 (P.L. 67, No. 9) codified at 35 Pa C.S. §7321.  This rulemaking required the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) to adopt emergency regulations aimed at new and existing unconventional wells within the Commonwealth.  The rulemaking was intended to enhance the ability of local governments to manage emergency response, establish Statewide standards for emergency response, and define standard signage to aid emergency responders.

This rulemaking was issued in “final-omitted” form.  That action is taken in special cases when it is deemed necessary to respond to an emergency, and allows the Commonwealth to issue rules without publishing a proposed rule or offering them for public comment.  Because Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission had recommended that actions be taken to enhance emergency response at unconventional well sites and that the lack of effective emergency response has a direct and immediate impact on human health, safety, and welfare, the final-omitted rulemaking form was used to add sections to 25 Pa Code, Chapter 78 relating to oil and gas wells.  The regulation was published in the January 26, 2013, Pennsylvania Bulletin   and became effective on the same date, with the exceptions noted below.

Site Address

Site address registration requirements of 25 Pa Code 78.55(f)(3) became effective on February 25, 2013.  Since then and prior to construction of an access road to a well site, operators have been required to obtain a municipal street address for the site and determine GPS coordinates for both the well and site entrance.  The site name, address, and GPS coordinates are to be registered with PEMA, the PADEP, the county emergency management organization, and the 9-1-1 Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP).

Emergency Response Plans

Emergency response plan requirements contained in 25 Pa Code 78.55(f)(5) took effect on April 26, 2013.  Operators are required to have implemented “an emergency response plan that provides for equipment, procedures, training, and documentation to properly respond to emergencies that threaten human health and safety for each well site.”  These plans are to “incorporate National Incident Management System planning standards, including the use of the Incident Command System, Incident Action Planning, and Common Communication Plans.”  Six categories of emergency are to be addressed:

  1. Fire;
  2. Medical;
  3. Explosion or similar event;
  4. Spill;
  5. Security breach or other security event; and
  6. Any other incident that necessitates the presence of emergency responders.

Other key elements to be included in these plans include:

  1. Emergency contact information and notification procedures;
  2. Procedures to provide current hazardous material (e.g., MSDS) information to emergency responders;
  3. A list of fire suppression and spill control equipment;
  4. A description of off-site emergency equipment;
  5. A summary of risks to the public located within ½-mile of the site; and
  6. An outline of the emergency response training plan.

Provisions have been included for the preparation of a common base plan and then site-specific plans unique to each location.  Plans are required to address each of the following stages of operation:

  1. Preparation of the access road and well site;
  2. Drilling the well;
  3. Hydraulic fracturing and stimulation of the well;
  4. Production;
  5. Site restoration; and
  6. Plugging of the well.

In addition to being maintained at the site during all phases of operation, these plans are to be distributed to PEMA, the PADEP, the county emergency management agency, and the PSAP.  The plan must be reviewed annually on or before March 1.  If updates are required, they must be submitted to the same recipients.  Otherwise a statement indicating that a review occurred but no updates were needed must be submitted.

Signage

The final element of these new requirements addresses signage.  Signage requirements specified at 25 Pa Code 78.55(f)(4) take effect on July 25, 2013.  Prior to constructing an access road, operators will be required to display a sign that meets specific fabrication, design, size, content, and installation requirements.  “Sample Site Entrance Signage” is provided within the PA Bulletin link noted above.

PADEP acknowledges that industry will incur costs associated with preparing emergency response plans and posting signs but expects that “responsible operators already do both.”  As such, the incremental costs are expected to be insignificant.  To assist with the implementation of these requirements, PADEP intends to implement a compliance assistance plan with regional training sessions presented by PADEP and PEMA.

If you are unclear about how this regulation affects your operations or have questions regarding these requirements, please contact Kris Macoskey at 800-365-2324 or via email at kmacoskey@cecinc.com.

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