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Senate approves bill weakening drilling regulations

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some of the  new drilling regulations they have proposed.

Matt Rourke / AP Photo

The amendment bars state environmental regulators from implementing some portions of the new drilling regulations they have proposed.

The state Senate voted Monday to approve an amendment that would undo parts of the state’s pending oil and gas regulations.
SB 1229 is now in the House. The bill was introduced in May and initially pertained to horse breeding, however an amendment approved Monday restricts state environmental regulators from implementing some of their proposed regulations for Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale industry (known as Chapter 78a), which are currently under review at the Attorney General’s office.
It’s the most recent maneuver in a protracted battle over the proposed rules between Governor Tom Wolf’s administration and the Republican-led legislature. Last month it seemed a detente had been reached, when Wolf signed a bill that tossed out half the regulatory package– eliminating the rules for the conventional oil and gas industry.
This new amendment, put forward by Sen. Guy Reschenthaler (R- Allegheny) bars the the state Department of Environmental Protection from making drillers submit waste reports more than twice a year, which is the current requirement. The DEP is seeking monthly waste reports, after large discrepancies between what landfills and drillers reported were uncovered by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Another provision gives drillers 24 months before they have to start restoring a drilling site– longer than the 9 months currently required. A third section prohibits the DEP from setting standards for freshwater storage impoundments related to oil and gas development that are more stringent than those required for other industries and activities.
“These changes do not affect the environment at all,” Reschenthaler tells StateImpact Pennsylvania, “They just make sure we don’t have red tape and burdensome regulations on the industry.”
The bill’s prime sponsor, Sen. Elder Vogel (R- Beaver) was unavailable to comment. In April, he circulated a memo saying the bill was an attempt to “fix technical issues related to the distribution of Pennsylvania Breeding Funds.” Vogel’s aide, Michael Rader, says the amendment is an effort to address some of the numerous concerns lawmakers raised about the DEP’s oil and gas regulations and rulemaking process.
“There were about 15 or so concerns raised,” says Rader. “We tried to dial it down to the three most concerning from a public policy standpoint: waste reporting, site restoration, and water impoundments.”
Environmental groups criticized the move.
“It’s inappropriate and offensive to the public interest to sneak a provision that undermines oil and gas regulations in a way the public would never be able to identify or weigh in on,” says Joanne Kilgour who heads the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club.
Reschenthaler disputes the notion that the process lacked transparency and points out there was another provision added to the bill to boost solar energy.
“This isn’t anything that’s outside the realm of normal,” he says of his amendment. “It’s so important to me personally to make sure we don’t over-regulate the oil and gas industry.”
A spokesman for Governor Wolf says he will veto the measure if it reaches his desk.
Note: This story has been updated with comments from Sen. Guy Reschenthaler

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