State environmental regulators are finalizing updates of new oil and gas regulations, which include more stringent rules around permitting, waste handling, water restoration, and identifying old wells.
The new rules from the state Department of Environmental Protection come at a time when Pennsylvania is already nearly a decade into the Marcellus Shale boom.
“The process is what it is,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said of the multi-year effort. “It has taken as long as it’s taken. What we have to do now is move forward. It is essential that we finish this job.”
The process began back in 2011 and has seen its share of controversy. Both industry and environmental groups criticized the effort as either too far-reaching or too weak.
The rules govern both conventional oil and gas drillers and the newer, unconventional Marcellus Shale industry. Changes include more work for drillers in the permitting process. They will now have to identify public resources such as schools and playgrounds. They will also have to identify old or abandoned wells that could be impacted by new drilling. If a water supply is tainted, the driller will have to restore or replace it to federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, or the pre-drilling conditions, if they were better. Marcellus Shale drillers will also be barred from storing waste in pits, using brine for dust suppression or de-icing.
Last June the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, which represents the conventional industry, filed a lawsuit against the DEP challenging its permitting process. That case is still making its way through state court, but unconventional drillers are upset too.
“DEP failed to consult with the industry regarding its comprehensive comments, as well as to better understand the cost of compliance with this rulemaking as they had done with the initial proposal in 2013,” said Marcellus Shale Coalition President Dave Spigelmyer in a statement.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Quigley said the DEP sought to be as transparent as possible, noting that they held a dozen public meetings and sifted through nearly 28,000 comments.
“These regulations are appropriate, balanced, and necessary for Pennsylvania,” he says. “I am proud of the work that the women and men of my agency have done.”
The regulations now move to the DEP’s Environmental Quality Board, which meets February 3. Assuming they’re approved, they go to the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission. The DEP expects them to take effect this summer.