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Trade Group Continues Fighting New PA Shale Regulations As Implementation Nears

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) is again trying to stop new shale drilling regulations from going into effect until permitting requirements are dropped from the final package, claiming that a state Supreme Court ruling last week validates its argument against the provisions.

In a series of quick actions late last week, PIOGA filed an appeal with the state Supreme Court requesting that a lower court's decision upholding the permitting requirements be overturned. A day later, the organization sent a letter to the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Documents asking it to take "whatever measures necessary to prevent" publication of the new regulations in the state bulletin. The new rules are expected to be published on Saturday, at which time they would go into effect.

Early last month, the state Commonwealth Court denied the organization's motion to declare that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has no authority to require operators to identify parks, forests, scenic rivers, national landmarks and other public resources in their well permit applications (see Shale Daily, Sept. 2). It claims that the DEP can no longer require operators to identify impacts to public resources and wildlife after the state Supreme Court in 2013 threw out the requirements when it deemed parts of Act 13 -- the state's oil and gas law -- unconstitutional in the broader Robinson Township case (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013). 

Last week, the high court decided on the remainders of the Robinson Township case and struck down other parts of the law in a ruling largely unfavorable for the oil and gas industry (see Shale Daily, Sept. 29). But PIOGA said language included in last week's opinion supports its argument that the public resource protections included in Act 13 are invalid.

The DEP began drafting the rules in 2011. The Environmental Quality Board, the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the state Attorney General's office have approved the new regulatory package. The rules are designed to reduce impacts on public resources, such as schools and parks, help prevent spills, strengthen waste management and require stronger well site restoration.

The Joint Committee on Documents oversees the Legislative Reference Bureau, which is responsible for compiling and drafting the regulations for the state bulletin. Deputy Secretary of the DEP's Office of Oil and Gas Management Scott Perry recently said his agency received the draft of the regulations from the bureau and that they would likely be published and implemented on Oct. 8 (see Shale Daily, Sept. 23).

PIOGA wants the permitting requirements scratched from the final rules before they are published, saying in its letter to the committee that "publication would improperly give the force and effect of law to regulatory provisions that are based on invalid and enjoined statutory authorization." A committee official said the letter is under review. PIOGA represents more than 500 members working throughout the state's oil and gas industry, including producers developing the Marcellus and Utica shales.

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