A new set of rules governing pipeline construction permits issued by the U.S. Army Corps or Engineers is causing extreme delays in getting gas from wells to market according to Chesapeake Energy. The new rules have turned what was an average 45-day process to file paperwork into a 300-day process.
The bottom line is that wells that are drilled and completed sit idle because gathering pipelines aren’t being built to them, and consequently landowners are not receiving royalty checks.
New permitting requirements affecting natural gas pipelines in Pennsylvania have raised the ire of Chesapeake Energy, which is encouraging natural gas leaseholders to join it in protesting the rules.
In a recent letter sent to landowners in the Northern Tier, Chesapeake’s vice president for government relations David J. Spigelmyer called the updated requirements enacted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on July 1 "unnecessary, time consuming and redundant."
Delays caused by the new permit reviews have stranded 128 of the company’s drilled and completed Marcellus Shale wells without pipelines and are "costing Pennsylvanians royalty income," he wrote.
The new rules replace federal regulations that expired in June controlling pipeline construction and other surface water impacts in Pennsylvania. A change in the regulations requires companies to detail all of the streams and wetlands to be crossed by a pipeline project – some of which stretch for hundreds of miles – rather than outlining only the impacts of each stream crossing individually.
The new permits allow regulators to consider the cumulative surface water impacts of the projects, which are increasingly spiderwebbing the commonwealth to tie new Marcellus Shale wells to interstate pipelines that bring the gas to market.
Army Corps of Engineers spokeswoman Stacy A. Ouellette said the permit "streamlines the process for activities throughout the state of Pennsylvania" and within multiple Army Corps of Engineer boundaries. The permit also allows Pennsylvania "to issue permits for activities having minimal impact to waterways and wetlands, reducing redundancy between the corps and state," she said.
In a description of the regulations published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin in May, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer said that the revised permit incorporates federal and state standards in one process and "continues a streamlined process for permit applicants without compromising comprehensive environmental protection."
In a statement Monday, Spigelmyer said the Baltimore District of the Army Corps of Engineers began applying aspects of the permit change over the last year and "the delays are already evident."
"This is obviously of great concern to landowners who’ve had wells drilled on their land and who are wondering why their wells are not yet producing and marketing gas," he said. "It is of equal concern to Chesapeake as each of our wells represents the investment of millions of dollars in capital that can’t begin to produce a recovery of investment, let alone a return on investment, if we cannot predictably plan for the development of pipelines necessary to get gas to market."*
*Wilkes-Barre The Citizen’s Voice (Aug 9, 2011) – Gas driller opposes pipeline rules, asks landowners to raise concerns