PA Legislature Struggles with Gas Well Setback Provision

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett is hopeful that the Republican-controlled Senate and House will pass new Marcellus Shale drilling legislation that reaches him by year’s end. But one of the political footballs is working out the issue of setbacks, or how far away a gas well can be drilled from a body of water like a creek, a private water well or a spring. Put the gas well too close and critics argue you increase the chance that an accident can damage the water supply. But make setbacks too far and it makes it practically impossible to drill any wells because the state has so many small waterways. That is, it becomes a back door way to prevent all drilling.

Here is the current state of play between the two differing versions of legislation that have passed in the Senate and House which now need to be reconciled before reaching Gov. Corbett:

The Senate-passed measure would: increase the setback distance from a Marcellus well and existing water well from 200 to 500 feet; increase the setback between a well and spring or body of water identified on a topographic map from 100 feet to 300 feet; and restricts a well from being located within 1,000 feet of a public water supply. These setbacks are in line with recommendations by the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. The House-passed measure would keep a gas well 300 feet away from any stream, spring or body of water and 1,000 feet from private wells and public water supplies.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Camille George, D-Houtzdale, ranking Democrat on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, would: keep a well 500 feet away from a stream, spring or water body; 1,500 feet away from private wells; and 2,500 feet away from public water supplies.*

*Wilkes-Barre The Citizens’ Voice (Nov 28, 2011) – Well setbacks issue with Marcellus impact bills