The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is slowing the permitting process for oil and gas projects that disturb significant amounts of land.

The DEP is taking comments through March 21 on a revised policy for protecting waterways from sediment runoff during well site construction. The DEP will no longer offer expedited permitting for projects in fragile areas, such as "exceptional-value or high-quality watersheds," floodplains or contaminated lands. The DEP will also no longer allow applicants that repeatedly submit error-filled applications to request expedited review.

The expedited review allows applicants to get an answer within 14 days rather than 60.

The changes are designed to meet the terms of a settlement the DEP reached in 2009 with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), Talisman Energy USA Inc. and Ultra Resources Inc. The CBF had accused the DEP of "rubber stamping permit applications without any formal review." The DEP had recently taken over the authority to review erosion, sediment and storm water control plans from county conservation districts (see Daily GPI, Sept. 10, 2009).

"As a result of this agreement, the department has met with stakeholders from industry and environmental organizations to develop a permit that provides both regulatory certainty and continued protection of the state's waterways," DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said.