IRRC Votes To OK Final DEP Drilling Regs., But House & Senate Will Have Their Say
The Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 3 to 2 to approve DEP’s final Chapter 78 (conventional) and 78a (unconventional, Marcellus Shale) drilling regulations at its meeting Thursday after 7 hours of hearing from DEP and those opposing and supporting the rulemaking.
The IRRC first voted 3 to 2 against a motion by Commissioners John Mizner and Russell Faber to disapprove the regulations that gave these reasons for disapproval--
-- DEP did not provide enough information on the cost impact of the regulation on conventional well drilling;
-- DEP has not meet its burden to show the conventional regulation changes are needed;
-- The Regulatory Review Act requires agencies to show flexibility in considering impacts on small business and the final regulations did not;
-- DEP did not adequately consult with its advisory committees on this regulation; and
-- DEP did not do enough to develop a consensus on the regulation with industry.
IRRC Commissioners George Bedwick, Murray Ufberg and Dennis Watson voted to approve the drilling regulations.
Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, issued a statement Friday calling for action on a House/Senate disapproval resolution on DEP’s final drilling regulations.
A Senate/House concurrent resolution disapproving would have to be reported out of one of the Senate or House Environmental Committees within 14 days of receiving the IRRC order on the DEP drilling regulations.
The Senate and House would have 30 calendar days or 10 voting session days, whichever is longer, from the date the resolution is reported out of Committee to pass the concurrent resolution disapproving the regulation and present it to the Governor for his action.
The Governor can then sign or veto the resolution. His veto is subject to being overridden by both the Senate and House by two-thirds vote.
On April 12, both Committees voted to disapprove the regulations, largely along party lines.
Representatives of the conventional oil and gas drillers challenged DEP’s drilling rules in Commonwealth Court and their challenge was denied because the issue was not yet ripe. An appeal of that decision was denied on Wednesday by the PA Supreme Court and allowed the IRRC meeting to continue.
DEP Secretary John Quigley issued this statement after the vote-- “I am pleased that IRRC moved these important regulatory updates closer to the finish line. The Chapter 78 and 78A regulations have been written with an unprecedented amount of public participation, including from the conventional and unconventional drilling industries.
“This final regulatory package will improve protection of water resources, add public resources considerations, protect public health and safety, address landowner concerns, enhance transparency, and improve data management.”
Among the changes to the current regulations:
-- Improved protections of public resources: Operators must provide notice if drilling would be near school property and playgrounds, parks, forests, and other public resources.
-- Strengthened water supply restoration standards: If oil and gas development degrades a water supply, the operator must restore or replace the supply with one that meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards or is as good as pre-drilling conditions if the water supply was better than the Drinking Water Act standards.
-- Electronic filing: In order to more efficiently track well development and operations, and to provide better public access to drilling data, operators will be required to submit electronic forms rather than paper.
“These changes are the result of tens of thousands of comments from industry and Pennsylvania residents, and our experience with the industry. They represent a balanced and incremental approach,” said Quigley.
The PA Environmental Council Thursday hailed the Independent Regulatory Review Commission’s approval of final regulations to enact long-overdue environmental protection and performance standards at oil and gas well sites. PEC President Davitt Woodwell issued the following statement:
“We are pleased the Independent Regulatory Review Commission has confirmed what we and the public have been saying for the past several years – these regulations are reasonable and necessary for the protection of public health and the environment. It’s long past time for Pennsylvania, after an unprecedented and prolonged engagement process, to put these rules into practice.
“The General Assembly should honor the very regulations and standards they called for four years ago, and recognized by IRRC today as in the public interest” said Woodwell. “The Department of Environmental Protection has taken unprecedented efforts to engage the public, industry, and other stakeholders in developing and presenting these rules, which set the commitment necessary for our state, and for industry, to truly say we are following leading practices. It is not the end of the dialogue by any means — continuous improvement should always be our goal — but it is a long-overdue step in meeting our obligation to allow for safe resource development, while also protecting the people and environment of Pennsylvania.”
The rulemaking, initiated more than four years ago after passage of Act 13 of 2012 by the General Assembly and Governor, involved two separate public comment periods, 12 public hearings, and dozens of meetings with stakeholders by the Department of Environmental Protection. Approval by IRRC represents one of the key final steps in Pennsylvania’s complex regulatory process.
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The Environmental Defense Fund praised the IRRC action--
“Requiring Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry to meet higher standards is a no brainer,” said Andrew Williams, Senior State Regulatory and Legislative Affairs Manager. “Every day, community impacts are an inherent risk associated with the intensity of this industrial activity. Proper safeguards that protect the people and the places near this development from potential air and water pollution are vital.”
The Chapter 78 regulatory package is a key element of Act 13, the state’s oil and gas law which went into effect in 2012 but had none of these important protections included:
-- Improved water supply restoration standards;
-- Public resource protections;
-- More oversight of waste management at well sites; and
-- Stronger environmental assessments for hydraulically fractured well sites.
Failure to approve Chapter 78 would have further delayed the almost four-year time period since Pennsylvania legislators voted Act 13 into law.
“We commend the Commission for taking this important step,” Williams said. “We look forward to working with the Wolf administration to put other important controls in place to protect the health and wellbeing of Keystone residents and the environment from the impacts of oil and gas development.”
For more information, visit EDF’s Natural Gas webpage.
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