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Environment & Energy

Drillers Will Adhere to Minimum Distances From Water Despite Court Ruling

While he awaits a decision whether the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will reconsider its decision to strike down part of Act 13, Gov. Tom Corbett is asking oil and gas drillers to continue to follow the environmental requirements established in that statewide drilling law.

“I am calling upon Pennsylvania’s oil and gas operators to honor both the spirit and intent of these setback provisions to continue helping us protect Pennsylvania’s water and natural resources,” Corbett said.

Last month the high court ruled that parts of Act 13 violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of Pennsylvania constitution that guarantees clean air and water as well as environmental preservation.

One of the provisions that the justices rejected dealt with a requirement that unconventional wells, such as Marcellus shale gas, be a minimum of 300 feet from a stream, spring, body of water or wetland. The setback distance is a minimum of 100 feet for conventional oil and gas wells.

Act 13 mandated that the Department of  Environmental Protection (DEP) waive the setbacks if drillers are unable to do so but could offer a plan to mitigate environmental impacts. Because of that waiver provision, the high court struck down that entire portion of the law.

Steve Forde, vice president for policy for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said drilling companies will continue to adhere to the distance requirements regardless of the court decision.

“These are setbacks and environmental standards that our industry has been complying with since Act 13 became law," he said. "In spite of the Supreme Court’s decision we’re going to continue to support business as usual in these setbacks and environmental standards that go along with it.”

According to Forde, the setbacks strike a valuable balance "to insure that we are protecting waterways, protecting the environment and the other is to allow for development to take place in a relatively consistent basis in areas across the commonwealth where development can occur. Setbacks certainly have not been a thorn in the side of industry.”

He added that site selection to adhere to setbacks requires close cooperation between drillers and the DEP.

“It really underscores the need for consistent and healthy dialogue between the industry and those who regulate us to ensure that we are developing the resource safely and in a manner that is consistent with state law,” Forde said.

The Supreme Court also instructed Commonwealth Court to determine if the remainder of Act 13 can stand without the provisions that it nullified.