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Pennsylvania DEP Again Revises Proposed Oil/Gas Rules

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has made two significant changes to overhaul oil and natural gas industry regulations since March, when it said it would open the four-year and counting process to a second public comment period and further revisions.

DEP had proposed including noise control provisions in its final draft, which would have required operators to prepare and implement site-specific noise mitigation plans for drilling, stimulation and other development activities. The industry said such regulations would be too vague. The agency said Wednesday it would engage in a "separate process" to address noise concerns and exclude them from the final rulemaking because of the "complex nature of noise mitigation."

DEP had also said it would add a section to regulations for above-ground fluid storage facilities to give "an effective alternative" to centralized wastewater impoundments. But it said Wednesday that plan had been scrapped, and it would instead continue regulating the tanks under residual waste regulations.

Earlier this year, John Quigley, Gov. Tom Wolf's appointee for DEP Secretary, said some of the new regulations under his leadership would be tighter and geared toward addressing the concerns of operators, landowners and the general public (see Shale Daily, March 9). Nearly 30,000 public comments, legislation passed in recent years and proposed changes by the Democratic governor’s administration, Quigley said in March, delayed the process.

"We asked the people of Pennsylvania for their concerns about developing oil and gas resources in the commonwealth, and they answered," Quigley said Wednesday. "These amendments reflect a balance between meeting the needs of the industry and the needs of public health and the environment -- all while enabling drilling to proceed."

The new rules are expected to be implemented next spring. The DEP said its latest revisions would be discussed at the upcoming meetings of the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC) and the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board, which both advise the agency on oversight of all oil and gas industries. 

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) called the DEP’s  final draft a “regulatory overreach” that could cost the industry nearly $2 billion. The agency has been criticized for not conducting a cost-benefit analysis during its rulemaking process and has not provided an estimate for how much the updated regulations could cost the industry.

Earlier this month, COGAC called the proposed rules "unnecessary and inappropriate" and said it couldn't support them because the DEP had ignored its obligations by neglecting the concerns of the conventional exploration industry (see Shale Daily, Aug. 5). That concern is shared by larger independent oil and gas producers developing the Marcellus Shale.  

“We have worked in good faith to provide constructive comments on this proposed rule,” MSC President David Spigelmyer said. “It’s disappointing that the Wolf administration chose to ignore comments made by the regulated community and disregarded legislative directives to do any real cost benefit analysis and engage the state’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board in this process...”

The DEP has been working to update the energy regulations since 2011. Last year, the General Assembly passed a law requiring the agency to craft separate regulations for the conventional and unconventional industries (see Shale Daily, June 27, 2014). DEP has addressed that law by separating its proposed rulemaking into two chapters. Chapter 78 addresses conventional well development, while Chapter 78a addresses unconventional well development.

The state's Environmental Quality Board and Independent Regulatory Review Commission must review the rulemaking before it can be implemented. The DEP said Wednesday some of the regulations had been revised slightly for clarity.

Under the final revisions, drilling near public resources such as schools, playgrounds and drinking water protection areas would require operators to conduct reviews of impacts and develop mitigation measures. The DEP said its latest revisions would not include privately operated playgrounds at restaurants or day cares.

The DEP's package would also still require centralized wastewater impoundments to either close within three years of the new rules' implementation or be upgraded and re-permitted with a residual waste permit. The DEP added Wednesday that one-year drilling permits would only be renewed once before a company has to start the application process again. 

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