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Corbett Continues to Roll Back Pennsylvania Natural Gas Regulations

The administration of Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett continues to roll back natural gas development regulations put in place by its predecessor.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Saturday rescinded a December 2010 policy document that guided how the state determined emissions sources from the oil and gas industry. The DEP also reopened the public comment period on two other air quality policies put in place last year by then-Gov. Ed Rendell.

"The department thinks that there are a number of potentially interrelated air quality topics regarding gas exploration and extraction activities within the Marcellus Shale which should be considered together," acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer wrote in a Feb. 26 notice in the Pennsylvania Bulletin.

The policy document gave the DEP a way to aggregate several small but interconnected sources of air pollution -- like compressors and other facilities -- that might individually be exempt from permitting. By bundling those into one larger source, the DEP could require drillers to maintain certain air pollution controls.

"In some cases that may not be appropriate, but at least the original ruling gave DEP the ability to look at that and decide if it was appropriate," Jan Jarrett, president and CEO of Citizen's for Pennsylvania's Future, told NGI's Shale Daily, adding that the DEP did not need to rescind the document to take more public comments.

The DEP did not return several calls for comment.

The Feb. 26 notice also reopened the public comment period on two other Rendell-era air quality regulations.

The first revoked a policy that exempted certain oil and gas exploration and production facilities from having to get approval for air quality plans and from having to meet operating permit requirements. The second revised the process on applying for general air quality plans and permits.

"The Department believes that it is appropriate to seek a comprehensive public comment period on all three of these topics together to guide the department on what, if any, guidance or action might be taken on one or more of them," Krancer wrote.

The DEP is now taking comments on all three issues through May 26.

The change on air quality regulations came one week after the DEP rescinded a policy that restricted drilling in state parks and forests (see Shale Daily, Feb. 23).

State Sen. Mary Jo White, a Republican whose district covers much of western Pennsylvania, applauded that decision. She said the restriction on state lands could have cost taxpayers "tens of millions of dollars from the impairment of existing contracts," adding that the restriction ran against legal precedent prohibiting the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) from imposing surface use agreements and drilling conditions on permit applicants who own subsurface mineral rights underlying state park land. Pennsylvania doesn't own the mineral rights to 80% of state park land and 15% of state forest land.

Jarrett called the impairment concern "poppycock," saying the regulations only set out guidelines equal to those in leases where the state owns subsurface rights.

"Those aren't considered impaired," Jarrett said.

The rollback took DCNR out of the equation for certain steps of the permitting process, but doesn't not entirely open the door to development on state land because a 2010 moratorium on leasing state lands remains in place. Lifting the restriction, though, is seen as the first step toward overturning the Rendell-era moratorium.

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