DEP Drilling Regs To Take Effect Oct. 8 In Spite Of Challenge By Conventional Drillers

DEP’s final Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale drilling regulations will take effect as scheduled on October 8 with their publication in the PA Bulletin (page 6431), in spite of a last minute attempt by the PA Independent Oil and Gas Association to block their publication.

On Thursday, Vincent DeLiberato, Chair of the Joint Committee on Documents which oversees publication of regulations in the Bulletin, said the Committee took no action on a September 30 letter sent by PIOGA to the Committee asking that the regulations not be published.

Mr. DeLiberato said, in fact, the paper copy of the PA Bulletin just finished printing Thursday and should be in the mail now.  The Bulletin becomes available online Friday morning.

Conventional oil and gas drillers have been successful in blocking efforts by DEP to update regulations covering their operations before.

DEP’s final Chapter 78 regulations covering conventional oil and gas drilling operations which originally moved through the development process in parallel to Chapter 78a, were killed in June when Gov. Wolf signed legislation into law that became Act 52.  DEP is now starting that regulatory development process over.

But, the drilling industry is not giving up its quest to change or block DEP’s drilling regulations either.

The conventional drillers are expected to file another legal challenge to the Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale regulations once published.

In April PIOGA lost an appeal of DEP’s Chapter 78 & 78a regulations to the Commonwealth Court and later the PA Supreme Court, saying they violated a 2014 state law on separating the regulations into conventional and unconventional (Marcellus Shale) provisions.  Commonwealth Court said the issue was not legally "ripe" because they regulations were not published in the PA Bulletin.  Now, Chapter 78a will be.

In addition, now pending before the House are two actions which could roll back parts of DEP’s Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale regulations, even if the legal challenges by PIOGA is not successful.

When it returns October 17, the House is expected to take up an amendment-- Amendment A09804-- to be offered by Rep. Jaret Gibbons (D-Beaver) to House Bill 1391 (Everett-R-Lycoming) to rollback well site restoration, waste disposal reporting and freshwater construction standards now in DEP’s Chapter 78a Marcellus Shale drilling regulations.

Also pending in the House Rules Committee is Senate Bill 1229 (Vogel-R-Beaver) that contains similar provisions.

DEP Comments

“These regulations are a long time in coming and have undergone one of the most transparent and participatory processes ever overseen by DEP,” said Acting DEP Secretary Patrick McDonnell. “The final result is a set of regulations that increase protection for public resources and water supplies, improve data transparency, enhance access to relevant information for the public, and help provide business certainty to the industry.

“DEP heard from thousands of citizens across multiple comment periods and a dozen public hearings, as well numerous meetings with industry representatives, and the regulations have been improved as a result. We are very proud of the regulations we are putting into effect,” said McDonnell. “These regulations codify many of the common industry practices to create some of the most protective regulations in the nation and ensure safe development of this important resource.”

Training sessions and information for oil and gas operators on complying with the new regulations has already begun.

For more information on the regulations and to view previous webinars, visit DEP’s Oil and Gas Surface Regulations webpage.

Other Comments

John Yudichak (D-Luzerne), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, issued this statement on DEP’s new drilling regulations--  ”The new regulations for unconventional oil and gas drilling strike a fair balance between industry and environmental concerns by further protecting Pennsylvania’s natural resources and adding clarity for those who engage in exploration and drilling practices.

“I voted for this rulemaking when it came before the Environmental Quality Board, and I’m extremely satisfied with the outcome of the regulatory process.  It was thorough, transparent and welcomed input from industry representatives, environmental advocates and citizens.

“Now, as we move forward, it is imperative that regulators make every effort to assist our industry partners as they work to comply, expand their operations, hire more workers and strengthen Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio.”

Davitt Woodwell, President of the PA Environmental Council, offered his perspective on the new regulations in “(Un)Conventional Thinking Part 2.”

Related Technical Guidance

The Department of Environmental Protection published notice of interim final Oil and Gas Program technical guidance in the October 8 PA Bulletin relating to Implementing the Area of Review Regulatory Requirement for Unconventional (Marcellus/Utica Shale) Oil and Gas Wells and on Replacement or Restoration of Private Water Supplies Impacted by Unconventional Oil and Gas Operations

The deadline for comments is December 7.  Comments may be submitted via the Department's online eComment webpage.  Click Here for more details.

Chapter 78a Regulations

The new Marcellus Shale regulations are the first time in 15 years there has been a comprehensive update to DEP’s oil and gas regulations.  Among the changes are--

-- Improved protections of public resources: DEP can require additional protective measures 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.

For more information, visit DEP’s Oil And Gas Surface Regulations webpage.


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