State agency announces gas and oil drilling rules

HARRISBURG – The state Department of Environmental Protection announced and explored its new rulemaking package during a live webinar Wednesday morning. The Environmental Quality Board will consider the rules for adoption at a meeting Feb. 3.

The rulemaking is a product of consultations with the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board and the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee as well as from public commentary. The aim is to not only update performance standards for surface activities for the first time since 2001 but also to address gaps revealed in 2010 and 2013 reviews, according to DEP’s website.

Some of the key areas of change include the improvement of protection of water resources, the addition of public resources considerations, protection of public health and safety, addressing landowner concerns, and the enhancement of transparency and improvement of data management.

The rulemaking package requires that gas and oil companies enhance transparency and data management by requiring that all notifications be sent electronically, along with all documents and reports that need filed.

Landowner concerns such as noise mitigation also are being addressed, and companies will be required to inform surface landowners of certain activities. The new policies addressing landowner concerns also give the DEP the ability to suspend operations and modify plans.

The rulemaking package states operators must identify active and inactive wells within a specific area of a well bore and submit a report and plan to DEP at least 30 days prior to drilling, for the sake of public health and safety.

It adds a monitoring plan component and makes explicit that the water supply must be restored to the better of pre-drill conditions or Safe Drinking Water Act standards.

Furthermore, the package expands impacts analysis of public resources and includes additional public resources for consideration, such as schools, playgrounds and DEP-approved wellhead protection areas.

In terms of water protection, operators will be required to demonstrate that streams and wetlands within 100 feet of the edge of a pad will be protected. The package also eliminates the use of waste storage pits of unconventional operators, requires centralized wastewater impoundments to be permitted through more appropriate residual waste regulations and adds a new section to create a centralized tank storage permit.

Many other additions and updates are included in the package, which will be implemented this spring upon the EQB’s approval. More detailed information can be found at www.dep.pa.gov/Business/Energy/OilandGasPrograms/OilandGasMgmt/Public-Resources/Pages/Oil-and-Gas-Surface-Regulations.aspx#.Vo163bYrJkg