Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is finalizing updates of new oil and gas regulations, which include more stringent rules around permitting, waste handling, water restoration, and identifying old wells. The process, which began in 2011, years after the Marcellus shale boom begun, has been mired in controversy with both the oil industry and environmental groups criticizing the rules for being, respectively, too stringent or not going far enough.
Under new rules, drillers will have to identify public resources such as schools and playgrounds, as well as oil and abandoned wells that may be impacted by new drilling. It introduces a ban on storing waste in pits and using brine for dust suppression or de-icing. It also obliges the operators to restore water quality, if tainted, to federal Safe Drinking Water Act standards, or the pre-drilling conditions, if they were better.
The rules have been challenged by the oil industry, which had already filed a lawsuit against the DEP challenging its permitting process last June. “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.
DEP Secretary John Quigley defended the new regulations saying that the DEP has carried out public consultations to an unprecedented extent, holding a dozen public meetings and sifting through nearly 28,000 comments.
“These regulations are appropriate, balanced, and necessary for Pennsylvania,” he said. “I am proud of the work that the women and men of my agency have done.”
According to DEP’s own calculations the new rules for shale operators could cost the industry as much as $31 million annually and as much as $73.5 million initially over the first three years after they are adopted. These estimates are still lower than the $1 billion which the industry groups argued new rules would cost annually.
The rules still have to be voted on by the state Environmental Quality Board (scheduled on 3rd February) followed by a review by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission and legislative committees in the spring.
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