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Pennsylvania Republicans Move to Scrap New Rules For Conventional Oil/Gas Drillers

An amendment tacked on to a bill by Republican lawmakers during budget negotiations in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives would force the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to throw out a package of contentious new rules for conventional oil and natural gas drillers and begin again.

The DEP has been at work on a series of regulations for both the unconventional and conventional oil and gas industries for about four years. The state's omnibus oil and gas law, Act 13 of 2012, required DEP to update Chapter 78 of the state code, which sets out environmental protection standards (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15, 2012). The DEP has been crafting the rules separately under two different chapters that would apply to each industry.

Last year, state lawmakers passed a bill that required DEP to adopt separate regulations for the conventional and unconventional industries (see Shale Daily, June 27, 2014). It was aimed at shielding legacy producers from the financial burdens of a larger regulatory overhaul for unconventional operators.

A Republican House spokesman said the amendment was added because DEP has not separated the rulemaking process in the way the legislature stipulated last year, saying the industries are markedly different and require distinct rules.

Earlier this year, under the leadership of DEP Secretary John Quigley, whom Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf appointed shortly after taking office in January, the agency proposed tighter rules and said it would delay their implementation until next year (see Shale Daily, March 9; Jan. 14). That prompted an outcry from trade organizations, operators and industry supporters that claimed DEP went too far with its proposed revisions. Conventional producers have plead with the agency to take a different approach to the rulemaking process, accusing it of layering ambiguous regulations into the rule package for both industries (see Shale Daily, April 30).

House lawmakers added the amendment to the  Fiscal Code bill, a companion to the state budget needed to enact it.

By law, the state budget must be passed by midnight Tuesday. The Senate is expected to vote by then, but lawmakers have hit an impasse, with Republicans largely adopting their own spending plan. Wolf has said he would veto all or part of the budget if it does not include some of his top priorities, including a 5% severance tax on oil and gas production (see Shale Daily, June 29).

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