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Pennsylvania DEP Splitting Advisory Boards For Shale, Conventional Drillers

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is creating a seven-member advisory committee to consult the agency on its regulation of the state's conventional oil and gas industry in a move that will allow its existing board to focus entirely on shale drilling.

The announcement comes as part of broader changes at the DEP with the election of Gov. Tom Wolf, who took office in January and appointed John Quigley as the agency's new secretary (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14). The DEP is accepting nominations for the new Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee until March 3, while also seeking new members for its five-person Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board, which will now focus on larger oil and gas companies drilling for unconventional resources.

"Creating this advisory committee will increase dialogue between DEP and the regulated community as well as broaden the interests we hear from," Quigley said. "Improving communication between all stakeholders and our department will foster stronger environmental safeguards in the future."

The technical advisory board was created in the 1980s to consult the DEP about rules and regulations related to the oil and gas industry in the state. The new committee’s creation comes after years of efforts from smaller producers and state legislators that have called for separate regulations, taxes and fees for those drilling shallow wells targeting conventional reservoirs (see Shale Daily, May 29, 2014). It will consist of representatives from three conventional operators, three appointments made by Quigley and one person appointed by the DEP's Citizens Advisory Council.

It's unclear how the split will affect a series of proposed regulatory changes that have been in the works since 2012. Those changes would update Chapter 78 of the state code. Their implementation has already been delayed until next year. The proposals deal with reducing impacts on public resources, preventing spills, waste management and the final restoration of well sites after drilling, among other things.

The advisory board is set to review and discuss a draft of the regulations at its meeting next month. Last year, a top DEP official said the regulations were delayed because the agency received tens of thousands of public comments from across the state, including some that were more than 100 pages (see Shale Daily, May 13, 2014). Given the industry's level of concern about some of the proposed changes, the extensive feedback from the public and some proposals that would inevitably need to be reworked, the official said more review and a longer public comment period would delay implementation until 2016.

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