In a decision that effectively clears the way for the implementation of tougher wastewater regulations for natural gas drilling operations in Pennsylvania's prolific Marcellus Shale area, the state's Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee has indicated that it does not intend to take any formal action on the regulations, according to committee chairperson Mary Jo White (R-21st).

"While several issues remain outstanding, my colleagues and I believe it is more productive to try to address these concerns legislatively," White stated in a letter sent to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger Tuesday. "As such, the Environmental Quality Board [EQB] is authorized to proceed with its promulgation of these rulemakings at the conclusion of the committee's 14-day review period on July 2 [Friday]."

The rules, which would restrict wastewater discharges from drilling operations in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale area to a more stringent 500 milligrams per liter (mg/l) standard at the pipe, while other new and expanded facilities in general use would be allowed discharges up to a threshold of 2,000 mg/l, were approved last month by Pennsylvania's Independent Regulator Review Commission (see Daily GPI, June 18). The regulations were previously approved by the EQB (see Daily GPI, May 18).

Critics of the regulations, including the producer-led Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), have said the drilling industry is unfairly singled out and will be burdened with an overly harsh wastewater standard. According to MSC executive director Kathryn Klaber, the 500 mg/l at the pipe standard is lower than that found in than some bottled mineral waters.

The rules are still subject to a 30-day review by Pennsylvania Attorney General Tom Corbett's office.

"We don't have any constitutional authority to voice an opinion on the policy," a Corbett spokesman recently told NGI. "Those types of matters, along with other state contracts and things like that, come to our office for form and legality review, and constitutionally our review is limited to just that, not a review in terms of an opinion by this office or an endorsement by this office."

Assuming no form or legal issues are uncovered during the attorney general's review, the regulations would be eligible to be published in the PA Bulletin, at which point they would be considered final.

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