Pa. DEP reviewing thousands of comments on overhaul of drilling rules

    (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    (Lindsay Lazarski/WHYY)

    Pennsylvania environmental regulators are wading through more than 25,000 public comments on a proposed overhaul of the state’s oil and gas regulations.

    The Department of Environmental Protection says those comments could represent as many as 5,000 different suggestions for changes from the industry, environmental groups, and Pennsylvania citizens. The regulations would update Chapter 78 of the state code and change how the industry operates above ground. 

    Members of the DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Commission heard an overview of the responses at a meeting Thursday in Harrisburg.

    “The range of comments we got on these issues, I’ve never seen anything like it in my 21 years in the department working on any regulation,” said Kurt Klapkowski, DEP’s director of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management.

    Klapkowski noted “there is no formula” for how the agency will incorporate these comments into the next draft of the rules.

    Water quality and waste management were among the chief issues the agency received comments on, and where opinions between environmental interests and the industry were most divided.

    For example, environmental groups suggested an outright ban on any open pits for storing wastes and production fluids.

    “We got thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands of comments on that,” Klapkowski said.

    Many environmentalists also requested that operators be required to restore local water supplies to meet standards of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, regardless of whether the water quality did or did not meet those standards before drilling.

    Industry groups and operators told the DEP they should not be responsible for restoring water supplies that were not impacted by their activities.

    Some comments, Klapkowski said, were outside the scope of the current proposal. For instance, the DEP received numerous requests to formally ban drilling on state or federal lands through regulation.

    Other comments are sending the agency back to the drawing board.

    Conventional or shallow drillers said many of the proposed regulations are unnecessary and too expensive. The DEP heard from several unconventional operators and their trade groups who said that the agency’s analysis of the financial burden for their industry was inaccurate.

    “We need to do our homework on that,” Klapkowski said.

    On Tuesday, Senate and House committees each approved a measure to require the agency to create separate regulations for shallow and deep, horizontal drillers.

    Scott Perry, DEP’s deputy secretary for Oil and Gas Management, said the current regulations already differentiate between conventional and unconventional operators.

    However, if the bill passes, Perry said the agency may have to start the whole rulemaking process over.

    “It would not be about lesser environmental performance standards, but simply a bifurcation of the rule,” he said. “So we would still continue to hold the conventional industry to the same kind of high standards that we expect of any industry operating in Pennsylvania.”

    The DEP expects to submit the final draft rule to the Technical Advisory Commission this fall. The rules could go into effect in the spring of 2016.

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