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Pennsylvania Trade Group Takes Legal Action Against DEP Permitting

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) has filed legal action with the state Supreme Court asking to intervene in a landmark case, alleging that the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is overstepping its authority by enforcing permit requirements that were invalidated by the court in 2013.

PIOGA maintains that the DEP continues to require operators to identify impacts to public resources and wildlife in their permit applications even though the state Supreme Court threw out the requirement when it deemed parts of Act 13 -- the state's omnibus oil and gas law -- unconstitutional in a broader case that challenged the law (see Shale Daily, Dec. 20, 2013).

PIOGA wants to be considered a stakeholder in the case, some of which is now being heard by lower courts. The organization has filed to intervene twice before without success.

"DEP cannot continue to require our industry to comply with these invalidated and enjoined provisions without obtaining authorization from the general assembly," said PIOGA attorney Kevin Moody. "In the meantime, however, DEP has simply ignored the court's determination and is using the section 3215 decisional process as if the court's ruling does not exist. This has forced PIOGA to take action on behalf of its members and the industry to ask the court to enforce its injunction."

Section 3215 was invalidated in a challenge against the law brought by townships in the state that wanted more say in the location of wells. The case returned to municipalities in the state a right to enforce or change zoning ordinances and invalidated other parts of the law, which was passed in 2012 (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15, 2012).

It's unclear if DEP has denied any permits for failure to identify impacts to public resources, but the agency is also pushing to make those requirements stronger as it works on a suit of new regulations for the industry (see Shale Daily, March 9). The agency has not commented about PIOGA's latest challenge.

PIOGA also contends that existing laws and other permitting requirements are "more than adequate" to protect statutorily designated public resources, such as schools and drinking water protection areas.

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