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Environment & Energy

DEP Proposal Strengthens Regulations for Oil and Gas Industry

Marie Cusick
StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new proposal from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) strengthens regulations on the oil and gas industry, while attempting to increase transparency and protect the general public.

“The release of today’s draft update to the commonwealth’s Oil and Gas regulations  in my view represents a great step forward for responsible drilling in Pennsylvania, and my definition of responsible drilling is protecting public health and the environment, while enabling drilling to proceed,” said Pennsylvania DEP Secretary John Quigley.

The draft toughens regulations for wells within 100 ft. of streams and wetlands; makes studying the impact of drilling near schools and playgrounds a priority; requires operators to create noise control plans; and makes clear the requirements for restoring a contaminated water source, among many other changes.

If approved unconventional wells will no longer be allowed to use temporary waste storage pits; and operators will be required to submit a report on all nearby wells’ operating state and location before drilling.

Also some centralized below ground wastewater empoundments will be closed within three years of approval of the proposal.  Instead above ground option with stricter regulations on overall makeup of the storage unit will have to be used. Some units could be grandfathered into the regulation.  Below ground waste storage has been shown to pollute the ground in many instances according to Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Operations, Scott Perry.

The DEP also proposed making data collection more transparent.

“We want to improve and ease the transfer of the data, and at the same time improve the access of use of the information for analysis and policy evaluation, so we will require notifications, documents and reports to be filed electronically. We want to ease reporting for the regulated community, and enhance our efficiencies. We really think that this is a win-win,” said Perry.

These changes were first proposed in 2011, and since then the department spoke with well operators, environmental groups, and considered about 24,000 public comments. The current proposal will be available for public comment for the next 30 days.

The DEP hopes to have these regulations take effect by spring 2016.