The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said Wednesday it has begun revising eligibility standards for expedited review of erosion and sediment control general permit applications related to oil and natural gas development.
The program was found to be ineffective following a review, DEP said. The agency reviewed permit authorizations from February 2014 through January 2016 and found that the program had "limited application" because of incomplete or technical deficiencies in nearly 60% of the applications submitted.
"This review concluded that the expedited review process is very challenging for DEP to implement and has not resulted in higher quality applications nor consistency in environmental protections statewide," said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. "Through this internal review, we've learned that this program only works when DEP receives technically sound and complete application materials at the outset, and we will revise our eligibility requirements accordingly."
The erosion and sediment control general permits are for earth disturbances for more than five acres associated with exploration, production, processing or transmission. Projects that meet objective criteria are eligible for a 14-day permit review. The DEP said that after it noticed consistently similar permit appeals and wanted more uniform permitting, regulators decided in early 2015 to review the process and evaluate consistency and effectiveness.
DEP is now developing revisions for expedited review eligibility -- including "objective and clear standards" -- returning applications, removing applications from the expedited process, and working to improve training for staff and industry applicants.
The agency said it received 624 applications for standard review and 1,054 for expedited review during the period in question. Fifty-nine percent of the expedited review applications were disqualified because the agency said they were "administratively incomplete or technically deficient." A copy of the review and its findings can be accessed here.
The revisions come at a time when the DEP also is developing a new general permit for unconventional wells sites and is working on revisions for the general permit for natural gas compressor facilities. Those changes are aimed at reducing methane emissions and minimizing other environmental impacts.