Pennsylvania's program for regulating the hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracing) well stimulation activities of oil and gas producers "is overall, well managed, professional and meeting its program objectives," according to a newly completed review.

"The review team found that the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] has a well managed program," said Lori Wrotenbery, director of the Oil and Gas Conservation Division of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, who chaired the review team. "In fact, we believe several aspects of the Department of Environmental Protection and its operations merit special recognition."

The review was conducted by a team appointed by Stronger Inc., a nonprofit organization that conducts voluntary state reviews of oil and gas environmental regulations. The review team, appointed in July, consisted of three members and four observers representing environmental groups, state regulators, the oil and gas industry and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Twenty-three others attended the review.

Pennsylvania's program was singled out for its operations in the areas of water planning; baseline water sampling and water studies; prevention, preparedness and contingency planning; waste identification, tracking and reporting; and increasing staffing levels.

The review team has also made recommendations regarding DEP baseline surveys, casing and cementing plans, availability of chemical information, notification of hydrofracing operations, and pit construction.

The Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act has a provision that an oil and gas well operator is presumed to be responsible for pollution of a water supply if it occurs within six months of drilling and is within 1,000 feet of the well. One defense against the presumption is a pre-drilling survey that documents baseline water quality. Proposed changes to the state's regulations would require results of such testing to be provided to the landowner and to DEP.

"The review team discussed whether pre-drilling testing should extend beyond the vicinity of the vertical portion of a well to the full aerial extent of the hydraulically fractured horizontal laterals," the team's report said. "The review team recommends that the commonwealth consider whether there are areas or situations in which risk factors, such as the absence of confining rock layers or the presence of potential pathways for fluid movement into groundwater, establish a basis for encouraging more extensive baseline groundwater quality testing."

Other review team members were Wilma Subra, an environmental scientist from Louisiana; and Jim Collins, a petroleum engineer representing the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Dave Rectenwald of the EPA Office of Solid Waste; Brad Field, director of the Division of Mineral Resources of the New York Department of Environmental Conservation; Steve Rhoads of East Resources Inc.; and Tom Au, conservation chair of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club participated as observers.

Copies of the Pennsylvania Hydraulic Fracturing Review are at the Stronger website.

Stronger was formed in 1999 to advance the state review process begun in 1988 by EPA and the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission. The name is an acronym for state review of oil and natural gas environmental regulations.

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