Commonwealth Court issues split decision on industry challenge to state’s natural gas regulations

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Marcellus Shale well in northeastern Pennsylvania is seen in this 2015 photo.

Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth Court has issued a split decision on environmental regulations for natural gas drilling. The Marcellus Shale Coalition filed its challenge to the regulations in October 2016, days after they went into effect.

The rules include requirements to clean up well sites shortly after drilling activities end and to make sure nearby abandoned wells aren’t contaminated by new drilling.

Both the coalition and the DEP declined interview requests, but provided statements via e-mail.

“We are pleased that the Commonwealth Court largely upheld the Department of Environmental Protection’s common sense regulations to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land and water from pollution by requiring natural gas drillers to identify wells in close proximity to proposed new wells, to restore well sites after they have been drilled, and to remediate spills of potential contaminants,” said DEP press secretary Elizabeth Rementer.

Coalition President David Spigelmyer said while he appreciated the court’s careful consideration of the issues, “several questions remain open in light of the partial nature of these summary judgment proceedings, questions for which the industry continues to seek resolution. As always, MSC continues to support fair, consistent and clear regulations, and our industry remains committed to working with state regulators to ensure the safe, responsible development of clean, abundant natural gas.”

The preliminary ruling from the seven-judge panel only addressed whether the Department of Environmental Protection had the statutory authority to make the rules. It didn’t evaluate each regulation on its merit and its impact on the industry and the environment.

Former DEP secretary David Hess said, for that reason, he can’t get too excited about the ruling.

“It’s sort of like the third round of a schedule 10 round bout in boxing between the two sides,” he said. “There’s a lot more to come.”

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