DEP takes comment on new drilling standards

Last updated: January 27. 2014 11:31PM - 2718 Views
By Jon O'Connell joconnell@civitasmedia.com

Kate Gibbons testifies at the Enviromental Quality Board hearing on proposed oil and gas regulations Monday at Tunkhannock Area High School.
Kate Gibbons testifies at the Enviromental Quality Board hearing on proposed oil and gas regulations Monday at Tunkhannock Area High School.
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TUNKHANNOCK — Proposed rules for oil and natural gas producers are either too stringent or not enough.
Those on either side of the Marcellus Shale drilling argument quizzed the state Department of Environmental Protection on Monday night at an Environmental Quality Board (EQB) hearing for a set of regulations the department proposes to enforce on drillers operating in Pennsylvania.
Anti-drilling interests made a strong show in the Tunkhannock Area High School auditorium, in which about 75 people gathered to give and hear testimony.
Gas drilling advocates pointed out the economic prosperity brought by natural-gas production and reminded the EQB panel that stiffer regulations could be a disincentive for production companies.
“Our overarching message is straightforward,” said John Augustine, community outreach manager for the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “Instead of undermining our strong, consistent and predictable regulatory framework, we should work cooperatively to revise these proposals, to maintain a balance between strong environmental protections and competitve economic climate.”
In summary, the proposed regulations require gas and oil producers to:
• Notify the appropriate authorities if a well pad is to be built within 200 feet of a publicly owned natural resource, park or historic site; or within 1,000 feet of a water supply.
• Identify abandoned or orphaned wells — that is, old wells that have been vacated uncapped. The producers are to monitor the abandoned or orphaned well to ensure movement in the new well's production does not disturb the old. If there is a disturbance, corrective action must follow.
• Use open pits only for temporary residual waste storage with liners that are tested. The storage pits also must be fenced or monitored around the clock to prevent vandalism or damage by animals.
• Used fracking fluid may not be kept in open containers and that water, which is used at high pressure to fracture or “frack” deep underground rock formations, may also not be stored in partially buried containers.
In all, there about 70 regulations as part of 25 Pa. Code Chapter 78, or Regulations for Oil and Gas Surface Activities.
Drilling opponents insisted that regulations are powerless unless they are enforced.
“How are you going to enforce them?” asked Silver Lake Township resident Vera Scroggins. “We need many more inspectors. We need a governor that is truly wanting to enforce and regulate, and he needs to supply hundreds of inspectors.”
Of the most criticized rule proposals: the standards set for storing flowback water. Most of the 20 or so industry opponents argued that used fracking water, which contains mostly water, sand and about 1 percent various chemicals, should be stored in a closed-loop system and processed appropriately.
David Wasilewski, of Hunlock Creek resident, was met with applause and shouts when he challenged industry spokesmen who heralded the Marcellus Shale industry as having “the best collected wisdom.”
“I can't see how an open-air pit used to collect massive amounts of poison represents collective wisdom,” he said.
Wasilewski said he would much rather see a moratorium on natural-gas drilling, but for his testimony before the hearing board he focused on the exposed pits, which he called “an absolute travesty.”
Tom Shepstone, a consultant who manages the blog www.naturalgasnow.com, said the state's oil regulations were reviewed last year and found to be more stringent than other states.
“It was determined the commonwealth's oil and gas regulatory program, even before the currently proposed revisions, was well-managed, professional and meeting its program objectives,” Shepstone said. “So the system is hardly broken. We don't need to fix anything, although upgrading and tweaking to keep up with technology are always welcome.”
The public-comment period for DEP's proposed regulations continues until March 14. Public comments may be submitted by visiting the state website at www.depweb.state.pa.us, and clicking the link “Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the public comment period ends Feb. 12. The deadline for public comment was extended to March 14.

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