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Environment & Energy

DEP Drilling Rules Subject of Regional Hearings

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection continues its swing through southwestern Pennsylvania Thursday night as it takes testimony on proposed changes to the rules that govern gas and oil drilling in the state.

The DEP took input for several hours Wednesday night in Washington County and will be in Indiana County Thursday night ant the IUP Convention and Athletic Complex. The rules change, known as Chapter 78, represents the first major overhaul in decades.

The changes include provisions requiring all frack water to be stored in covered tanks, streamlining the permit process and better accounting for abandon and orphaned wells. 

Activists on both sides of the shale drilling debate are offering both praise and condemnation of the rewrite of the rules. 

Joe Leighton of the industry group Associated Petroleum Industries appeared before the DEP Wednesday.  He said he has concerns with the definitions in the rule.

“There are sections in the definition section that refer to other statutes and regulation.  It is easier to comply when the exact statue is either spelled out or a section number is provide,” said Leighton. 

Pennsylvania codes are notorious for having been updated over the years creating a convoluted patchwork of crisscrossing references.

Penn Future Chief Counsel George Jugovic is more worried about regulating waste materials created at the wellhead. Some materials can be wrapped in plastic and buried on site. Ukovich said he is concerned that the materials over time will leach out into the water table. Further, he worries contaminants that cannot be buried under DEP rules will be allowed to slip into the pit.

“There is no requirement that the operator do a representative sampling of the waste, that they use a certain protocol to sample the waste, that they submit the results to the agency,” said Ukovich. 

He believes that could lead to drillers testing the waste stream only at times when nothing hazardous is entering.

“How are they (the DEP) going to enforce that standard?  DEP is going to have to dig up the solidified waste, take representative samples and show that it violates the standard in the regulation,” Ukovich said. 

He thinks that leads to an unenforceable standard.

The DEP is about half way through a 90-day comment period. That is three times longer than the usual comment period.  The public hearing in Indiana is the fifth of nine such gathering across the state.

When the comment period ends March 14, the DEP will launch into the next phase, which is expected to drag into 2015.

“We want to make this as transparent as possible,” said DEP Deputy Secretary Scott Perry.  “We want to have multiple public meetings to discus the comment we got, what we think about it, and then show the public some of the changes we are proposing to make as a result of the process.”

Comments can be submitted on line. The entire rule can be found on the DEP website.