DEP holds hearing on proposed oil, gas regulations
By Brendan Gibbons
Times Shamrock Writer
Several dozen people attended a public hearing held by the state Department of Environmental Protection to gather input on dozens of new proposed oil and gas regulations.
Landowners and residents of affected communities were present for Monday’s meeting (Jan. 27) at Tunkhannock Area High School, as were representatives of organizations promoting and fighting the industry.
At issue were 74 pages of proposed regulations amending Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code, which regulates oil and gas wells. DEP summarized some of the noteworthy changes:
*Well permit applicants would be required to notify the state if a well would lie within 200 feet of public lands, natural and historic landmarks, or near a place that would affect species of special concern.
*Applicants for unconventional wells would have to notify the state if they plan to drill within 1,000 feet of a water well, surface water intake, reservoir or other water supply.
*Before hydraulic fracturing, an operator would have to identify any orphan or abandoned oil or gas wells left over from older oil and gas development within 1,000 feet of the vertical or horizontal well.
*Open pits can only be used for temporary storage, and these pits must have liners of a certain thickness with seams tested beforehand, plus a surrounding fence or 24-hour surveillance.
*Produced water from hydraulic fracturing cannot be stored in open containers.
*Drill cuttings can be disposed of at the well site if they meet certain criteria, including not being contaminated with produced water or another regulated substance.
*If the department identifies a water supply polluted by well pad development or drilling, the well operator must restore or replace the water supply to standards under the Pennsylvania Safe Drinking Water Act or better, if the quality exceeded those standards.
The full text of the proposed changes are available on the department’s website, www.depweb.state.pa.us, by clicking on “Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations.”
Some of those who attended stated that the proposed regulations do not go far enough.
Kate Gibbons, outreach coordinator for environmental advocacy group PennFuture, said her comments focused on two areas: open pits for waste storage and disposal of wastes at a drilling site.
“We strongly recommend that they require a closed-loop containment system” instead of open pits, she said. The group also opposes the disposal of wastes at the well site, which Gibbons described as a potential “mini-landfill site.”
Others countered that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations have already been recognized as adequate, and some of the proposed rules place an unfair burden on the industry.
John Augustine III, community outreach coordinator with the Marcellus Shale Coalition industry group, said the choice between environmental protection and development of the Marcellus Shale is a false one.
In his comments to the board, he cited taxes paid and jobs supported by the industry, lowered energy and heating costs and the use of Act 13 impact fees to fund environmental initiatives.
In an interview last Tuesday, he said the coalition opposes the proposed requirement to treat water to standards that could be higher than pre-drilling conditions.
“You shouldn’t have to fix something you didn’t break,” he said