Pennsylvania board approves revisions to oil and gas drilling rules

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), an independent entity responsible for adopting environmental regulations, approved revisions to the commonwealth’s oil and gas drilling regulations by a 15-4 vote, the Department of Environmental Protection announced in Harrisburg. The Feb. 3 action drew immediate fire from the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association (PIOGA).

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (EQB), an independent entity responsible for adopting environmental regulations, approved revisions to the commonwealth’s oil and gas drilling regulations by a 15-4 vote, the Department of Environmental Protection announced in Harrisburg. The Feb. 3 action drew immediate fire from the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association (PIOGA).

The final rulemaking covers both conventional and unconventional production in separate chapters. Major areas in each include public resource impact screening, water supply replacement standards, waste management and disposal, and establishing identification and select monitoring of wells nearby hydraulic fracturing activities.

Other new provisions regulating both sides of the industry include standards for well development impoundments; a process for the closure or waste permitting of wastewater impoundments; on-site wastewater processing; site restoration; standards for borrow pits; and reporting and remediating spills and releases.

The amendments to Chapters 78 and 78a of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas well site environmental protection performance standards improve protection of water resources, add public resources considerations, protect public health and safety, address landowner concerns, enhance transparency, and improve data management, DEP said.

The regulatory language was formulated with the input of more than 25,000 Pennsylvania residents, it added.

“These updated rules are long overdue and it’s time to get them across the finish line for the protection of public health, for industry certainty, and for the protection of our state’s environment,” DEP Sec. John Quigley said. “The changes are incremental, balanced, and appropriate, and are the result of one of the most transparent and engaged public processes in the history of the agency.”

‘Deception, misinformation’

PIOGA Pres. Louis D. D’Amico was more critical. “The 4-year process of developing these regulations has been an exercise in deception, misinformation, and disregard of the law by [DEP] that escalated under Gov. [Tom Wolf (D)],” D’Amico said. “DEP has offered no legitimate explanation for applying the provisions of Act 13 intended for the unconventional industry to conventional oil and gas producers.”

Wolf’s administration showed blatant disregard of the law and lack of transparency with his “not publicly announced dismissal” of all the Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Board’s long-serving members about a month into his term in early 2015, he said.

“It was demonstrated again today by the EQB’s refusal to vote separately on the conventional and unconventional rulemakings as unquestionably required by Act 126 of 2014, and by the EQB’s rejection of amendments to correct technical deficiencies in the regulations, even after DEP admitted it intends to implement some regulations differently from what the provisions actually state,” D’Amico said.

“Like the Wolf administration's persistent calls for a severance tax on an industry in a freefall from low commodity prices, these regulations will accomplish three things: send more hard-working people to the rolls of the unemployed, stifle energy production in Pennsylvania, and reduce the amount of taxes paid to the Department of Revenue,” he warned.

DEP said the new rules now will be delivered to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the Pennsylvania House and Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committees for review.

Contact Nick Snow at nicks@pennwell.com.

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