Wednesday, February 18, 2015

DEP To Replace All Members Of The Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Board

DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council Tuesday approved a list of three recommended candidates to serve on DEP’s five-member Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board which will now be refocused on advising the agency on unconventional oil and gas drilling regulations and policy.  DEP is also planning to add several ad hoc members to the Board.
DEP is also forming a new Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee with seven members to advised the department on conventional drilling regulations and policy.  The Council was asked and did recommend three potential candidates to that Committee.
DEP will pick one of the three names recommended by the Council for each of the committees to serve.
DEP Tuesday announced it is soliciting nominations from the public for membership on the Conventional Advisory Committee which are due March 3.
Secretary’s Report
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley also attended the meeting, his second with the CAC,  to answer questions and give a short update on agency activities.
In response to a question about Gov. Wolf’s proposed natural gas severance tax to fund education, Quigley said not all the decisions have been made on where all of the funding will go, but he does expect some of the revenue will be used to fund DEP’s regulation of oil and gas drilling.
He also said not all the details have been worked out on how much of the existing drilling impact fee will be retained, except the proposal does call for communities to keep receiving funding for impacts from drilling operations.
Quigley said he does not yet have a date for a confirmation hearing on his nomination, but next week expects to begin his individual meetings with Senators that are part of the confirmation process.
Underground Coal Mining Impact Report
The CAC heard a presentation by the authors of DEP’s Act 54 2008-2013 Underground Coal Mining Impact Report from the University of Pittsburgh highlighting the findings and recommendations in the report.
The report includes information that documents and assesses the surface impacts resulting from both longwall and traditional room and pillar underground bituminous coal mining, including damage to surface structures and impacts to aquatic life, pH and conductivity of streams and the loss of domestic water supplies from mining in Armstrong, Beaver, Cambria, Clearfield, Elk, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson, Somerset and Washington counties.
One of several key findings in the report showed 40 percent of the streams undermined by deep coal mining-- 39 of 69 miles-- suffered flow loss or pooling that had an adverse impact on aquatic life, pH and conductivity in the streams.
The report, the fourth in a series required under Act 54, was prepared by the University of Pittsburgh and reviewed by DEP staff and released on December 30.  DEP is required to submit the impact report to the CAC, the General Assembly, and the Governor every five years.  Three previous Act 54 reports, also reviewed by the CAC, covered 1993 through 2008.
The University was selected by DEP to complete the report due to the expertise of its faculty and research staff on all aspects of the effects of mining-related subsidence.  A copy of the presentation will be posted on the CAC’s webpage.
Tom Callaghan, Director of DEP’s Bureau of Mining Programs, said in response to a question from Council, the agency is still reviewing the recommendations and findings in the report and has not made any decision about any changes they plan to make.
The Council has invited the public to comment on the contents and recommendations in the Act 54 Report and has set aside two hours at its March 17 meeting to hear public comments on the plan.  Written comments are due to Council by March 31.
During the CAC’s open public comment period, a request was made by Joanne Kilgour, Director of the PA Chapter of the Sierra Club, for Council to hold a public comment session in Southwestern PA in the area affected by longwall coal mining.
Council Chair Terry Dayton said in response to the request they would try to work out a way to hold an additional comment session in the area if it can be reasonably be accomplished within the Council’s budget.
The budget for the CAC has been cut in half over the last six years which has limited the ability of the Council to hold meetings outside of Harrisburg.
Recommendations To Prevent Illegal Dumping
The CAC heard a presentation by Shannon Reiter from Keep PA Beautiful and Michele Nester, of Nestor Resources, Inc. on the conclusions and recommendations in a report completed last year for KPB on illegal dumping.
-- Universal access to waste and recycling services including the establishment of permanent, gated convenient centers within close proximity to the population;
-- Establishing measures such as building and demolition permitting and a registration network for small contractors and transporters to deter commercial dumping;
-- Heightening awareness and understanding of waste management issues through a statewide multi-media campaign and an Environmental Law Training Program for Enforcement Officers and Justices;
-- Expanding the use of electronic surveillance at active illegal dumpsites;
-- Creating county level Joint Code Enforcement Officer Programs to support local governments; and
-- Establishing fines that significantly outweigh the avoided cost of disposal and publishing the identities of those who continue to illegally dump.
A copy of the presentation will be posted on the CAC’s webpage.
Recycling Convenience Center Grants
Larry Holley from DEP’s Division of Waste Minimization and Planning briefed Council on a new demonstration grant program they are developing to create a limited number of recycling convenience center projects that will offer rural areas of the state both recycling and limited waste drop off services.
Holley said about $750,000 in Act 101 recycling funds is being set aside to fund two or three centers to provide rural residents more convenient access to these services in hopes it will prevent illegal dumping.
Public Comments
Council also heard from several other individuals during its open public comment period at the meeting--
-- Roberta Winters, PA League of Women Voters, commended DEP for turning down the Phase I siting applications for a hazardous waste facility in Bucks County, urged DEP to take a fresh look at what constitutes administrative and environmental violations in reporting compliance actions, and suggested DEP could cut costs by introducing new technology to monitor the environment, including the use of drones.
-- Stephen Kunz, Schmid & Company, Inc., said he looked forward to DEP’s comments on the Act 54 report and the changes it would propose to regulate underground coal mining because the report demonstrated environmental impacts are happening that cannot be fixed.
The next meeting of Council will be on March 17 starting at 10:00 in Room 105 Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg.
For more information, visit the DEP’s Citizens Advisory Council webpage.
COGENT: Concerned About Severance Tax? You Betcha!

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