Wednesday, October 22, 2014

CAC: DEP Extends Comment Period On Oil & Gas Enforcement Policy Changes

Kurt Klapkowski, Director of DEP’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Planning and Program Management, told the DEP Citizens Advisory Council Tuesday the agency will be extending the public comment period for proposed changes to the Oil and Gas Program Enforcement Policy until November 18.
Klapkowski provided Council with an overview of the changes in the enforcement policy which he said was not updated since 2005.  The changes added new sections on when inspections are to be conducted and the results posted on DEP’s eFACTS system, the procedures for investigating water damage complaints and clearer guidance on data and reporting requirements.
The policy would require DEP staff to inspect wells prior to and during production (page 10 of the proposed policy)--
-- Prior to the commencement of drilling on a new well pad;
-- During drilling, casing, and cementing operations;
-- Following well stimulation and completion activities;
-- Following the time period in which the owner or operator is required to restore a site
after drilling a well;
-- While a well is being altered or repaired or when casing is being replaced;
-- Prior to a well being granted inactive status;
-- Annually for disposal wells;
-- Following a violation to determine whether the violation has been corrected; and
-- Following a complaint.
During the post-production period, the policy requires a well to be inspected--
-- During the plugging of a well;
-- After the owner or operator restores a site following plugging or abandonment; and
-- Before a bond or other financial security is released.
In actual practice, Klapkowski said, wells are usually inspected two or three times and sometimes only once. When asked about the difference between actual practice and the inspection requirements in the proposed policy, Klapkowski said the policy represents an “aspirational goal.”
Klapkowski said the policy is on a fast track and should be finalized by the end of the year.  He noted DEP staff is already following the policy in the field.
Acting Secretary’s Report
Acting Secretary Dana Aunkst provided the Council with an update on several issues in response to questions from Council members--
-- TENORM Study: The draft final report on DEP’s comprehensive study of radiation associated with the production and distribution of natural gas should be going to the peer review group in November and is likely to be finalized in December.  He noted none of the samples collected by DEP had results triggering either required reporting or a response under the state Radiation Protection Act.
-- Shale Air Emission Studies: In response to a question about a news report saying DEP left out some sampling results from its regional, short-term studies of air emissions from oil and gas production activities done during the Rendell Administration in 2010 and 2011, Aunkst said DEP was preparing a response on the issue.  He said he is aware some results were inadvertently left out of the short-term studies, but were included in a longer-term study DEP is conducting. The question was prompted by comments made by Joanne Kilgour, Sierra Club, during the Council’s public comment period. (see below)
-- Waters Of The U.S. Rule: Aunkst said DEP did submit comments on the proposed U.S. Environmental Protection Agency/Corps of Engineers rule largely because the agency wanted to oppose any “one size fits all” rule applied to states.  He said the proposed rule will not have any real impact on when water quality permits will be required in Pennsylvania because state water quality laws were broader than the earlier federal rule.  He did note he was concerned there would be more oversight and review of state permit actions if EPA adopted the rule as proposed.
-- Alternate Sewage Systems: When asked about the status of efforts to change sewage regulations to allow for proven alternative sewage systems, Aunkst said he thought the issue was moving ahead and would be discussed during an upcoming Sewage Advisory Committee meeting.  A concern was expressed the changes needed to make this happen were included in a larger rulemaking package that could get bogged down in the process.
-- Stream Buffer Legislation: Aunkst said DEP intends to be ready to implement House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) 60 days after the bill is signed as required in the legislation, if bill becomes law.  He said at this point he does not know whether DEP’s regulations will have to be changed or if additional technical guidance is needed.
Chesapeake Bay Update
Andy Zemba, Director of DEP’s Interstate Waters Office, provided an update on Pennsylvania’s efforts to meet the Chesapeake Bay Watershed cleanup milestones.  (Copies of Zemba’s handouts are available on the CAC webpage.)
He noted his office has a major initiative underway to improve the reporting of best management practices on the ground that he said should show significant under-reporting of practices and bring Pennsylvania closer to meeting the milestones.
Zemba also provided Council with a copy of a chart showing the specific actions DEP and its partners plan to undertake to try to meet the 2015 milestones, noting that EPA requires 60 percent of the best management practices must be in place to meet the later milestones by 2017.
He said he thought Pennsylvania would meet its milestones, but it will take a lot of work.  When asked about more resources coming online to get more practices on the ground, he said he did not think it was likely, but that Act 13 (the Marcellus Shale impact fees) did provide some additional funding.
DEP Advisory Committee Chair Roundtable
After the regular business meeting, CAC’s Public Participation Committee held a roundtable discussion with the chairs and DEP liaison staff to Advisory Committees in the Department on ways to improve the effectiveness of the committees.  
This initiative started in September with a survey of Advisory Committee Chairs to solicit their ideas on improving the process and the 1998 DEP policy guiding their deliberations.
The Public Participation Committee provided Council with the preliminary results of the survey Tuesday that included the responses from 18 of the 22 DEP Advisory Committees.  (A detailed summary of the responses is also available online.)
Overall, the Chairs of most of the Advisory Committee thought DEP used them effectively and provided them with good support.  Several Committee Chairs made recommendations for improvements based on their experiences.  
The Public Participation Committee intends to discuss the results of the roundtable Tuesday and the final survey results and develop recommendations for Council consideration at its November 18 meeting.
Public Comments
Two individuals presented remarks during the Council’s public comment period--
-- Bonita Hoke, PA League of Women Voters: She expressed concern about the passage of House Bill 1565 (Hahn-R-Northampton) and its negative impact on water quality, suggested DEP conduct a formal analysis of the impact climate change will have on increasing the risk of natural disasters, recommended efforts be expanded to meet the Chesapeake Bay cleanup milestones and commented that DEP should be doing more to advise the General Assembly on environmental issues.
-- Joanne Kilgour, Sierra Club: Expressed concern about a news report saying DEP left out some sampling results from its regional, short-term studies of air emissions from oil and gas production activities conducted during the Rendell Administration in 2010 and 2011, and called on Council to look into the issue.
Other Activities
-- Environmental Advocate: Kimberly Morewood, the Director of DEP’s Office of Environmental Advocate, provided Council with an overview of her office and the services it provides to citizens seeking input on permit decisions.
-- Act 54 Longwall Mining Impact Report: Council Chair Terry Tayton reported the final Act 54 Longwall Mining Impact Report is still undergoing final review by the Department and may be available for Council review by the end of the year.
-- Priorities For Governor: The Council assigned its Policy and Regulatory Oversight Committee the responsibility of preparing a report on the DEP priorities the Governor’s Office should address in the next four years regardless of who wins the November 4 election.
The next meeting of the CAC is on November 18.  It will be the final meeting in 2014.
For more information, visit DEP Citizens Advisory Council webpage.

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