Wednesday, January 22, 2014

PEC Urges DEP To Move Ahead With Drilling Reg Changes, Include More Protection

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council Wednesday urged the Department of Environmental Protection to move ahead with proposed changes to Chapter 78 drilling regulations and strengthen them, rather than delay them further because of the recent PA Supreme Court decision invalidating portions of the Act 13 drilling law.
John Walliser, Vice President for Legal and Government Affairs for PEC, will present PEC’s comments at an Environmental Quality Board hearing on the Chapter 78 regulations tonight in Washington County.
“We are far better off with promulgation of the expanded protections contained in this rulemaking than to further delay action,” said Walliser.  “We urge the Department, after carefully considering public input, and with due regard to the Supreme Court’s decision with respect to the import of the Environmental Rights Amendment, to finalize this proposal.”
Walliser commended the agency for requiring a pre-hydraulic fracturing assessment under the regulations, pointing out a similar recommendation was included in a 2010 policy report on shale gas development published by PEC.
“We believe these provisions should be strengthened to expand the scope of the operators’ analysis of potential fluid conduits in the impacted strata, and to require operators to verify avoidance or mitigation of identified hazardous prior to hydraulic fracturing,” Walliser said.
Walliser also urged DEP to strengthen these other provisions of the regulations--
-- Treat Conventional and Unconventional Gas Wells The Same: “As part of a broader examination of Act 13 and its implementation after the decision of the Supreme Court, we again question basing the distinction between conventional and unconventional (Marcellus) operations and the application of differing protection standards solely on a depth of extraction.  The risks of hydraulic fracturing are arguably greater in shallow formations.”
-- Provide More Protection For Public Resources: “We maintain, as we have expressly advocated in the past, that the Department should expand upon the list of, and analysis required for, identified Public Resources, and that there should be a presumption of permit conditions or denial where analysis determines probable impact.”  This is especially true after the Supreme Court decision which directly addressed the issue.
-- Adopt SRBC Water Management Standards In The Ohio Basin: The Ohio River Basin has no agency similar to the Susquehanna River Basin Commission to regulate water withdrawals and management.  PEC recommended DEP adopt the same low-flow protection policy SRBC uses to evaluate water withdrawal requests.  PEC also pointed out DEP is considering a partnership with The Nature Conservancy to collect water data and expressed its support for the initiative.
-- Strengthen Water Impoundment Standards: PEC recommended DEP use wastewater impoundment design standards for impoundments used to hold mine influenced water for drilling operations.
-- Strengthen Brine Storage Requirements: PEC recommended temporary storage of brines or produced water only be allowed at permitted and bonded well sites with robust leak detection, secondary containment, capacity and time limit measures.

Walliser added PEC expects to revisit its review of the regulations when court review of Act 13 is completed.
A copy of the PEC testimony is available online.

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