Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

DEP always granted Marcellus drillers’ requests to avoid Act 13′s stream buffers

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

Scott LaMar/ witf

Loyalsock Creek in Sullivan County.

The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) says it has never denied a request by a Marcellus shale driller to circumvent the stream setback requirements in Act 13.

Parts of the 2012 oil and gas law were struck down by the state Supreme Court last month, including the stream and wetland setback requirements.

The court held that since it was so easy for companies to bypass the setback rules, the law violated the environmental rights of Pennsylvanians. At issue was the fact that Act 13 allowed the DEP to waive the setbacks, as long as a company submitted a plan showing it would take adequate measures to protect waterways.

DEP’s Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management, Scott Perry, says although the department has never denied a waiver request from a Marcellus driller, it has worked cooperatively with companies to protect waterways.

“We’ve been able to modify where well sites were able to go,” he tells StateImpact Pennsylvania. “We’ve been able to strengthen erosion and sediment control plans and other pollution and prevention control plans.”

Perry believes Act 13 gave the DEP the ability to enforce the setbacks and did not require the department to automatically approve waiver requests from drillers.

“We’ve always interpreted that law to give us the authority to deny [waiver requests], when appropriate,” he says.

The setbacks, which were struck down by the court, required unconventional gas wells to be at least 300 feet from streams and wetlands, with the edge of the well site at least 100 feet away:

Rig-Stream-Wetland

Tom Downing/ witf

According to the DEP, the number of companies seeking to avoid the setbacks was relatively small. Last year, 74 unconventional gas well sites received DEP waivers. Those sites contained 147 individual gas wells– a small fraction of the roughly 3,000 well permits issued by the department in 2013.

 

Comments

  • Victoria Switzer

    Just check the violations reports from DEP..repeat violations concerning soil erosion, sites not properly containing pollutional discharges..same companies making the same mistakes over and over. Penalties? Right. To quote a DEP employee..”If we fine them too much they won’t report their spills(mistakes).” Wetland protection? Creeks protected? Springs? Water wells? Watershed protection? Mature forests? DEP is simply in the business of promoting the gas industry. We need a revamped, no, a new DEP that stands for DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION

  • Victoria Switzer

    DEP= Deny Environmental Protection

  • Julieann Wozniak

    Yet another example of Mr. Corbett’s pay to play philosophy. More of us die of cancer, meh.

  • Patrick Henderson

    The goal of the setback and waiver provisions is to ensure that the waters of the Commonwealth are protected. Despite StateImpact’s headlines and the lack of context in the article, there is no evidence that DEP’s administration of the waivers have put any waters of the Commonwealth at risk. Seeking a waiver is a process; it is not simply a yes or no proposition. Once DEP lays out to the applicant exactly what they expect in order to successfully receive a waiver, and the applicant complies, there should be no surprise that waivers are granted, because the goal of protecting the waterways has been met. Additionally, the number of well applications that seek a waiver is relatively modest, at approximately 5% of applications.

    The waiver process is not new, and that too is not conveyed in the article. It has been permitted since 1984 and worked extremely well. The only thing that is new is the requirement, championed by Gov. Corbett, that setback distances be expanded from 100′ to 300′. The Supreme Court set this mandatory requirement aside, putting Pennsylvania waterways at risk, but again, Governor Corbett stood up for the environment by calling on and securing agreement from industry to adhere to these setback standards despite the court’s ruling. The fact remains: under Governor Corbett’s watch, and due to his leadership, with Act 13 Pennsylvania has adopted the single greatest enhancement of environmental protection laws in nearly three decades.

    Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
    Office of Governor Tom Corbett

    • Jason Gulvas

      Is this Henderson guy just naturally obtuse? The court scuttled the
      provision because it wasn’t being followed anyhow. Kind of like
      hitting a reset button. And of course, no one really believes anyone
      speaking for Corbett’s office, so Perry’s statement doesn’t hold much
      weight. Why hail Corbett as a visionary environmentalist because he
      championed setbacks of 300 feet, if his DEP waives the setbacks
      anyhow? Fundamentally, the DEP’s current role is to green-light all
      gas development in this state. Setbacks? Nonsense.

    • BobSchmetzer

      The Oil & Gas industry have purchased control of the State Government. They either support a state candidate or threaten to fund an opponent. Local papers have run an add for candidates who want to support the Oil & Gas industry to give them a call. Also, the house & senate members who are also members of ALEC have sworn an oath to ALEC. They also sworn an oath to the constitution. They will be a Traider to one and can not serve both.

  • paulroden

    Allowing the gas industry to police itself is like having the fox guard the hen house. Allowing the DEP or the DRBC to approve drilling applications by just stamping them is equally bad policy and practice. With DEP budget and staff cuts, more applications for drilling and all DEP inspector reports sent to the Governor before citations and fines are issued, I have no faith or trust in the “Don’t Expect Protection” department.

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