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Groups Urge Tougher Oil and Gas Laws in Pennsylvania

Two environmental groups -- the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) -- are urging the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to amend the state's Oil & Gas Act, specifically calling for reforms to the permitting process for Marcellus Shale wells and enacting tougher rules on hydraulic fracturing.

"The regulations and oversight governing this industry have not kept up with the technology for extraction," Matt Ehrhart, director for the CBF's office in Pennsylvania, said Tuesday. His counterpart, PEC President Paul King, concurred and called the Marcellus Shale play "a once-in-a-generation challenge and opportunity for Pennsylvania. We have one chance to get it right and these amendments are the way to do that."

The amendments proposed by the PEC and CBF call for increasing the distance unconventional wells must be set back from surface structures and private water supplies from 200 to 500 feet. Current law also prohibits wells within 100 feet of water resources, but environmentalists would like to increase the setback for unconventional wells to 300 feet in general, but to 500 feet from "high quality or exceptional value waters."

CBF spokesperson Kelly Donaldson told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that if the stronger regulations had been in place, the April 19 blowout of a Chesapeake Energy Corp. well in Bradford County, PA, would have had less of an impact on the environment (see Shale Daily, April 25).

"It's pretty understandable that if a spill were to occur there would still have an impact, but at least you would have an additional 200 feet from a 300-foot setback versus a 100-foot setback," Donaldson said. "The further away you can set back a rig from a stream, the less likely you are to have an impact on that stream."

Donaldson said the amendments were presented to the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission on Tuesday. She said they were likely to be distributed to members of the state General Assembly on Wednesday.

SB 680, a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh), seeks to amend the Oil & Gas Act by modifying the permitting process and bonding requirements and would prohibit wells using hydraulic fracturing or horizontal drilling within 2,500 feet of a surface water source, and within 1,000 feet of a groundwater source or a water source having exceptional value. The bill was submitted to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee in March.

Conversely, the environmental groups' proposed amendments call for the DEP to gather information on water sources within 2,500 feet of a well site, but don't specifically call for wells to be prohibited in those areas.

Patrick Creighton, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), told NGI's Shale Daily on Wednesday that the MSC "will review the recommendations, and where existing regulations don't address their concerns we are certainly willing to take a hard look at what's being proposed."

DEP officials did not return calls seeking comment over the environmental groups' proposals or SB 680 on Wednesday.

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