Budget may force Pa. back to square one on drilling regulations

The DEP has spent two years crafting regulations for oil and gas surface activities. It may have to start all over again.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

The DEP has spent two years crafting regulations for oil and gas surface activities. It may have to start all over again.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection may have to go back to the drawing board in its two-year overhaul of drilling regulations, because the new state budget contains language changing the rules for oil and gas wells.

Governor Corbett signed the legislature’s $29 billion spending plan yesterday. The new well regulations were among other items slipped into a companion bill, known as the fiscal code. Democrats challenged the constitutionality of the move, noting that bills are supposed to adhere to one subject, but the objections were overruled in the House.

The law now makes distinctions between modern deeper, Marcellus Shale wells and shallower, conventional wells. It mirrors a bill introduced by Senate Present Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati (R- Jefferson) earlier this spring.

Given the new law, the DEP’s yet-to-be-finalized regulations may be in jeopardy.

The draft rules implement key provisions of Act 13– Pennsylvania’s 2012 oil and gas law. They deal with surface activities on and around well sites– including waste handling, spill prevention, and protecting environmental resources. [Read our explainer here].

The DEP’s press office did not respond to questions for this story. However, Scott Perry, who heads its Office of Oil and Gas Management recently told StateImpact Pennsylvania the department may have to begin the rule-making process all over again.

“It would not be about lesser environmental performance standards, but simply a bifurcation of the rule,” he said. “So we would still continue to hold the conventional industry to the same kind of high standards that we expect of any industry operating in Pennsylvania.”

At a press briefing yesterday with reporters, Corbett’s Budget Secretary, Charles Zogby, seemed to be unaware of the issue.

“I’ve not had a chance to talk with [DEP] Secretary Abruzzo, so I really can’t speak to that,” he said.

The department opened up the regulations for public comment last December, and held more than half a dozen hearings across the state over the winter. Since then, its staff has been wading through more than 25,000 comments.



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