Pennsylvania

Energy. Environment. Economy.

Quigley responds to criticism over new drilling regulations

"A government that works is a government that listens," says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley. "We're trying to listen to as much input as we can."

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

"A government that works is a government that listens," says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley. "We're trying to listen to as much input as we can."

Governor Wolf’s pick to head the state Department of Environmental Protection is defending the way the agency has handled proposed changes to gas drilling regulations.

At a public meeting last week, representatives from the state’s Marcellus Shale industry sharply criticized the agency and suggested the Wolf administration illegally appointed non-voting members to its newly formed Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB). The new members include representatives from academia and the environmental community.

Drillers argue these new appointments– which occurred shortly after Wolf took office– have no place on the TAB, which gives technical recommendations.

“This is an attempt to be as transparent as possible,” says Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley.

DEP has been revising its oil and gas regulations since 2011. In December 2013, the rules became available for public comment. The agency held nine hearings across the state and received more than 24,000 comments. Shortly after Wolf took office, the DEP made a slew of significant changes– imposing more stringent rules for things like waste, noise, and streams. The new draft regulations will be available for another 30-day comment period on April 4th.

Quigley says the agency has the authority to create advisory groups and add non-voting members.

“It’s interesting that was the line of attack,” he says of the industry’s objections. “These boards are not a rule-making body. They advise the agency. I think the more advice we get, the better.”

Last week state Rep. John Maher (R- Allegheny) wrote to Quigley to complain about the TAB appointments. Maher compared the situation to a 1945 dystopian novel by George Orwell, writing that it, “reminds me of Animal Farm’s sad devolution to institutionalizing the precept that some are more equal than others. Transparency demands otherwise.”

Legally, the DEP can completely ignore the TAB’s recommendations if it wants to. Drillers said they feel like the agency has already ignored their comments on the draft regulations.

Among other changes, the DEP is seeking to discourage the use of large wastewater impoundment ponds. Existing impoundments will need to be shut down or re-permitted within three years. Quigley says they have leaked and contaminated groundwater and soil.

“These facilities– as currently permitted– are posing an unnecessary risk,” he says. “We’re proposing to subject them to a much higher construction standard.”

Quigley says the department wants drillers to adopt best practices and singled out three companies– Shell, Chevron, and Southwestern– as going above and beyond the state regulations.

“There are 67 companies doing unconventional gas development in Pennsylvania right now and only six use the open wastewater impoundments,” he says.

Comments

  • bill

    So, 61 unconventional gas companies working in PA on their own with no force of government regulation have eliminated open wastewater impoundments and only 6 have not yet done so? Sounds like a responsible industry to me.

  • Perryjeff

    Its about time that our environmental protection agency start protecting the environment. The industry crybabies have gotten used to the giveaways the Corbett DEP gave them. They need to face the reality that the people of PA rejected Corbett’s approach, and elected a Governor who is more interested in protecting people’s health.
    For too long, the TAB was stacked with drilling industry mouthpieces. Now, the TAB is better balanced, and is less likely to rubberstamp whatever the frackers want.
    Amazing that some frackers oppose elimination of open wastewater pits. As usual, a few industry bad apples make it necessary to legally ban an activity, so the good apples don’t find themselves at a competitive disadvantage with the recalcitrants.
    We can expect the industry mouthpieces like Rep. Maher in the General Assembly to keep advocating the frackers’ opposition to more protective regulations, a severance tax like other states have, and more funding for DEP to increase drilling inspections. We can also expect them to oppose Quigley’s confirmation, since he is charged with implementing Gov. Wolf’s plans to better protect PA’s environment and public health.
    The public needs to be vigilant to make sure the frackers don’t get their way like they did during Corbett’s tenure.

  • AlSever

    Please provide some PROOF that wastewater impoundments are unsafe! EVERY industry uses them and so do Sewage treatment facilities.
    And I’m sure you all know that Manure storage impoundments are NOT lined nor do they have monitoring wells to test for leakage. Just try to get agriculture to stop using unlined impoundments for waste storage!

    • Jack Wolf

      You’re trying to compare apples and oranges by comparing an organic source of fertilizer to a toxic industrial waste.

      • AlSever

        Organics are not toxic?–We fined a guy in Snyder county once for killing all aquatic life in a stream. Discharged phenols of 1000 ppm and BOD5 of 2000–came from newly ground Mulch.
        And we had high lead in wastewater from a vegetable tanning operation–lead came from the lime used to dehair the hides–No one ever checks lime for lead content! Add lime to your garden?

  • Jack Wolf

    The only regulation I could fully back would require fossil fuels be left in the ground. Fossil fuel driven climate change impacts are hitting, and the global CO2 budget is in the red. As it is, we will blow through a 2C temperature increase… Any addition ghg’s will only add to our future misery. The sooner our politicians get the heads out of their butts and face facts, the better the chances for our survival in the future.

  • 40yeargeologist

    This industry is not putting toxic wastes into streams. Just because you say it constantly does not make it true. The TAB has a requirement to have geologists and engineers that understand the technical (hense the name) aspects of drilling for oil and gas. You have now a technical advisery board with little to no experience in drilling engineering or oil and gas geology. Will make the regulations written by PennFuture and the like much easier to pass.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/veraduerga Vera Scroggins

    Good to see more enforcement and concern on part of DEP; we need more regs to protect our waters and air and there are too many toxic impacts from this Industry;

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »

Economy
Education