State Board Approves Tighter Oil and Gas Regulations

Aug 28, 2013

An arm of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has approved a new package of regulations that, if approved, would govern the surface operations of oil and gas producers in the state. The proposed rules from the Environmental Quality Board were developed by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as part of a two year push to refine Act 13.

DEP spokesperson Lisa Kasianowitz said the package includes four main changes:

  • Force oil and gas operators to be in discussion with agencies of nearby state resources before drilling. For instance, if a proposed drill site is near a state park, The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources could make comments to the DEP and operator about the drilling.
  • Set guidelines for the storage of materials on well sites including the use of “secondary containment,” in which operators must set up liners or double walled tanks to prevent contaminants from reaching state waters.
  • Require operators take pre-hydraulic fracturing specimens of abandoned wells in the area. Ensuring the fracking process doesn’t affect nearby abandoned wells.
  • Set rules to protect water sources from operations under waterways.

Kasianowitz said, in crafting the regulations, the DEP looked at how they will effect “conventional operators,” “unconventional operators,” and small businesses. She said the new rules will mostly affect “unconventional operators.”

“Their well sites are usually much larger than conventional operators, which are just drilling straight down,” said Kasianowitz, “they may have more emissions, they’ll have bigger holding cells, they’ll have larger fresh water impoundments, they may have a recycling waste water process on-site. They basically just have a lot more equipment and a much larger site.”

The Marcellus Shale Coalition estimates that less than half of operators affected by the regulations will be small businesses. The U.S. Small Business Administration classifies oil and gas companies with less than 500 employees as small businesses.

Kasianowitz said it could take 18 months before the package is finalized.

“It has to go through the Office of General Counsel, the Attorney General’s office, it has to go through Pennsylvania’s House and Senate Standing Committees, it has to go to an independent regulatory review commission, and it has to go through these phases multiple times.”

Kasianowitz said, once the package is approved by the Attorney General and the General Counsel’s office, the DEP will be taking comments from the public and holding at least six public hearings across the state.

The full proposal is available on line.