Industry group considers legal action over new drilling rules

  • Marie Cusick
The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association objects to the way Gov. Wolf's administration has handled changes to drilling regulations.

AP Photo/Keith Srakocic

The Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association objects to the way Gov. Wolf's administration has handled changes to drilling regulations.

A trade group representing the state’s oil and gas industry is considering taking the Wolf administration to court over the way it’s handling proposed changes to drilling regulations.

“We want to hear facts and science, but we’re seeing disrespect for the law in many ways,” says Kevin Moody of the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA). “We are considering legal action.”

PIOGA objects to an effort by the administration to add four new, non-voting members to a technical advisory board that is guiding the Department of Environmental Protection on a major update to oil and gas regulations. The new members include representatives from academia and environmental groups.

DEP says the new members will add more public accountability to the process. Industry representatives have argued their appointments are illegal.

Under state law, DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) is supposed to be made up of five voting members representing people with expertise in the industry– like petroleum engineers and geologists.

PIOGA sent a letter to the five voting TAB members last week, urging them not to approve the new non-voting members. Moody argues the department does not have the authority to add new people.

“It’s not like all their other advisory boards,” he says.  “They can create their own boards and change them, but they can’t do that to a statutory board. It’s as simple as that.”

“We fundamentally disagree with the letter,” says DEP spokeswoman Julie Lalo in an email. “The statute that authorizes this advisory board only sets a minimum number of voting members, and allows DEP the implied right to expand the membership.”

PIOGA also objects to the substance of the proposed drilling regulations, which DEP has been revising since 2011. In December 2013, the rules became available for public comment. Shortly after Wolf took office in January, the DEP made a slew of significant changes– imposing more stringent rules for things like waste, noise, and streams.

“The Department is committed to transparency and integrity, and cannot accept the premise of a trade association asking a public agency to not allow public participation in our decision-making process,” says Lalo.

The new rules are currently available for a 45-day public comment period, ending May 19th. The DEP is also planning three public hearings.

 

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