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Pennsylvania AG Completes Review of New Drilling Regs

The Pennsylvania Attorney General's (AG) office has completed its review of a comprehensive package of environmental regulations for the state's unconventional shale producers, bringing the rules one step closer to implementation.

The AG's approval of the regulations is one of the final steps in the rulemaking process. The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began drafting the rules in 2011. Earlier this year, the agency sent the package out for review (see Shale Daily, Jan. 6). The Environmental Quality Board and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission have approved it. The AG's office approved the rules last month, according to spokesman Jeffrey Johnson, and they were then sent to the Legislative Review Board on Aug. 5.

The rules were written in tandem with those for the conventional oil and natural gas industry. In June, the General Assembly approved legislation to scrap the conventional rules and require the DEP to start those over (see Shale Daily, June 15). Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle accused the agency of ignoring Act 126 of 2014, which required the agency to adopt separate regulations for both industries.

Shale regulations must now be published in the state bulletin before they can be implemented. It remains unclear when that might happen as confusion persists about how to handle the conventional aspects of the package given the legislation to scrap them (see Shale Daily, July 27). Senate Republicans have requested that the Joint Committee on Documents meet to discuss how the rules would be published in the bulletin.

The committee oversees the Legislative Reference Bureau, which is responsible for compiling and publishing the regulations in the state bulletin. General Counsel to the Senate Republican Majority Caucus J. Andrew Compton wrote to the reference bureau in June asking for a meeting to resolve the "ambiguity and internal inconsistency" in how the regulations might be published with regard to conventional wells.

"This retroactive abrogation of the rulemaking with regard to conventional wells raises significant issues for the bureau in fulfilling its duty to compile and publish the regulations in the Pennsylvania Code and Pennsylvania Bulletin," he wrote, referring to Act 52, which banned the conventional rules from being implemented. "During the rulemaking process, the regulations were bifurcated into separate chapters for conventional and unconventional operations. In light of the Act, it is unclear as to how the bureau should treat the final rules, particularly with respect to conventional well sites."

In response to Compton's letter, the joint committee on documents has scheduled a meeting on Thursday to discuss how the regulations will be published. DEP spokesman Neil Shader said that after the committee approves the regulations, they would format them for publication in the bulletin. He said on Monday that it would likely be a “few weeks” before they’re implemented, adding that there’s no “firm date” at this point.     

The regulations would reduce impacts to public resources, such as schools and parks, help prevent spills, strengthen waste management and require stronger well site restoration standards, among other things.

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