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With new draft rules, DEP steps up oversight of drilling waste

Impoundment pond

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

An impoundment pond in the Tiadaghton State Forest.

The state Department of Environmental Protection is planning to increase its oversight of oil and gas drilling waste.

The department issued new draft regulations which would ban the use of temporary waste storage pits and require drillers to either shut down or upgrade large centralized wastewater impoundment ponds.

The waste rules are among other changes to DEP’s Chapter 78 oil and gas regulations, which have been in development since 2011. In December 2013, the process was opened up for public comment. The department held nine public hearings around the state and received more than 24,000 comments.

Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley says the revised regulations will be opened up for another 30-day comment period later this spring. He expects the rules to be finalized by 2016.

“Our goal is to be thoughtful, deliberate, and transparent,” Quigley told reporters on a telephone press conference Monday. “This is not an end point but a beginning for discussion.”

The revised draft rules eliminate temporary waste storage pits for unconventional drillers. They also require drillers to have centralized wastewater impoundment ponds permitted through more stringent residual waste regulations. Existing impoundments will have to be shut down or re-permitted within three years.

“The centralized impoundment regulations require these things to be built like our landfills,” says DEP’s Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas, Scott Perry. “It’s a substantially engineered structure, compared to the temporary pits.”

Marcellus Shale drillers have largely abandoned the use of temporary waste pits, however Perry says impoundments continue to pose problems. Last year DEP fined Range Resources more than $4 million for leaking wastewater from an impoundment.

Other changes include:

  • Different rules for conventional and unconventional drillers: Last summer, the state legislature inserted language into a budget bill that required the DEP to separate its regulations for shallow, conventional wells and deeper, unconventional Marcellus wells. The new rules have distinct sections for each industry.
  • Identifying wells: Previous draft rules required operators to identify orphaned and abandoned wells. The new rules go further and require them to also locate nearby active and inactive wells.
  • Noise mitigation: The draft rules have a new noise mitigation section for unconventional drillers. They must create site-specific noise management plans, and the DEP would have the ability to suspend operations or modify the plan.
  • Public resources: Schools and playgrounds were added to a list of public resources that must be identified by drillers.
  • Stream and wetland buffers: In late 2013, the state Supreme Court struck down portions of the state’s oil and gas law, known as Act 13– including a portion that required the DEP to waive stream setbacks for drillers. The DEP says it already has the ability to enforce water quality standards under the PA Clean Streams Act. The new rules would require more stringent reviews of well sites within 100 feet of streams and wetlands.
  • Record-keeping: Documents, notifications, and reports must be filed electronically with DEP.

The DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board will meet next Friday, March 20th to review the revised draft rules.


This article has been updated to reflect the following correction: The Act 13 stream buffers struck down by the court were 100 feet from the edge of the “disturbed area of a well site”, not 100 feet from the wellbore.

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