New PA Bill Would Require Real-Time Monitoring of Gas Wells

On Monday, Pennsylvania State Representative Duane Milne, a Republican from Chester, PA (near Philly) held a press conference in his district to announce new Marcellus Shale legislation he will soon introduce. The legislation would require all natural gas wells—wells yet to be drilled and wells already drilled—to install real-time safety monitoring using technology called a wireless mesh network (WMN). The bill will also include real-time monitoring of natural gas pipelines using WMN.

WMN is a series (or network) of wireless transmitters that doesn’t need the Internet in order to “talk” with each other. The transmitters would automatically alert the Department of Environmental Protection and county emergency management organizations if it detects a problem.

The proposal sounds fine on surface of it—who doesn’t want more safeguards or an early warning? Except, who will pay for it? Does it really make anyone more safe than the existing safeguards in place now? How do you monitor pipelines with it—every so many feet? And oh, the company that can provide this wonderful (and expensive) technology? That company just happens to be in Rep. Milne’s district—the company where he held his press conference to announce the legislation. (Make sure you look up the word “boondoggle” in the dictionary.)

Here’s the release issued before the presser held by Milne on Monday:

On Monday, April 9, at 10 a.m., Rep. Duane Milne (R-Chester) will hold a press event at the headquarters of Rajant Technologies, located in the Borough of Malvern. The purpose is to announce legislation he is introducing to require the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and county emergency management organizations to implement constant real-time safety monitoring and communications with each natural gas well in the Commonwealth. Officials of Rajant will explain how some of the company’s technologies could be applied to achieve the goals of the legislation.

The purpose of such a directive would be to better ensure the safety and security of the public as natural gas drilling continues to grow in the state. The methodology for doing so is feasible and cost-effective via implementation of a wireless mesh network (WMN), which allows electronic communication to take place at sites where there is no access to the Internet.

“While the benefits of natural gas extraction for the Commonwealth and its citizens are clear, it remains vitally important that such operations be safe, clean and efficient,” said Milne. “Having WMN technology designed to ensure safe and efficient operations would further the success of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania, resulting in continued job growth and augmenting the state’s revenue base.”

Once wells are drilled, they remain largely unmanned during their useful service life. More than 5,000 wells and thousands of miles of pipeline related to Marcellus Shale development are already planned in Pennsylvania. Most of these wells and miles of pipeline will be rurally-sited and unmanned. As the Gulf oil spill last year illustrated, there is a critical need for real-time reporting of incidents such as leaks, system failures and other damage to critical infrastructure involved in drilling operations. WMNs provide this real-time alerting capability and thereby help to assure the public that the natural gas industry is acting safely and has the public’s best interests in mind.*

*Rep. Duane Milne (Apr 9, 2012) – Milne Introduces Bill to Implement Real-Time Safety Monitoring of Natural Gas Wells and Pipelines