Friday, February 23, 2024

DEP Publishes Final Guidance On Environmental Consideration In Using Trenchless Technology To Construct Natural Gas, Other Pipelines

The Department of Environmental Protection published
notice in the February 24 PA Bulletin the final technical guidance on using trenchless technology to construct natural gas, other pipelines and underground utilities is now available and effective

            A copy of the related Comment and Response Document is also available.

            DEP began the development of the guidance in July 2018 as a result of a settlement of litigation with the Clean Air Council, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, and Mountain Watershed Association related to DEP’s permits issued for the Mariner East Pipeline Project. 

            [Note: The construction of the Mariner East Pipeline across Pennsylvania resulted in Sunoco/Energy Transfer Partners being convicted of criminal charges for environmental violations and resulted in an additional $31 million in penalties.  Read more here.  

[On February 16, a citizen complaint lead DEP to a breakout of drilling mud used in the construction of the Mariner East Pipeline that contaminated the lake at Marsch Creek State Park in Chester County.  Read more here.]

[On February 22, the Public Utility Commission also adopted final regulations strengthening operation and construction regulations covering intrastate hazardous liquids pipelines triggered by the bad experiences with the Mariner East Pipeline construction.  Read more here.]

The development of the guidance also benefited from the work of two workgroups consisting of a balanced group of stakeholders that represented the interests of the Appellants, DEP, and select other entities, chosen by DEP, representing the interests of proponents for the potential development of draft policy, procedure, and/or guidance documents.

Visit DEP’s Trenchless Technologies Resource Page for more background and documents related to the technical guidance.

            Quick Summary

“The TGD itself outlines for project proponents, things to consider or possibly implement when necessary, when they're proposing the use of trenches, technology installation or when they're proposing that methodology on any project or any portion of a project, said Andrew Foley, Water Program Specialist, DEP Regional Permit Coordination Office in a presentation to the Water Resources Advisory Committee.

“The guidance was drafted in concurrence with the existing regulations, so it doesn't stipulate or provide new recommendations outside of what exists, but it does help bring together the best practices and provides a more consistent departmental stance on trenches, technology and utilization of trenchless technology, which has long been needed,” added Foley.

“We believe the guidance will help improve the quality of application submissions by reviewing or removing a lot of the ambiguity that goes into the planning and preparation that applicants do to prepare for submission of a permit that involves trenchless technology,” said Foley.

“We believe it should help foster a more consistent approach by our staff as they review these permits on what we expect and what we consider to be above average risk for these types of projects,” explained Foley. 

“The guidance provides, as I said, very necessary information that helps clarify while also providing a consistent message that we think will help applicants develop a more solid and defensible permit submission, bringing the two together so that we're working on the same page,” said Foley.

From the guidance-- “The guidance document outlines the steps and options to consider, and implement as appropriate, when proposing to use a trenchless technology installation method, including horizontal directional drilling, on any portion of a project.”

“The level of analysis needed for a project should be commensurate with the level of environmental risk. It is the project proponent’s responsibility to perform the due diligence, but DEP may request this, if necessary, to determine compliance with the statutes or the rules and regulations administered by DEP.

“Some of the guidance provided herein may not be appropriate for the scope of a proposed project. Each project that proposes trenchless technology (e.g., HDD) should be prepared in consideration of project-specific and site-specific issues, impacts, and public and agency comments.”

Site Suitability & Feasibility/Alternatives Analysis

From the guidance- “DEP recommends a Site Suitability Analysis and a Feasibility Analysis which include evaluating the potential effects of trenchless technology construction on the environment and impacts to aquatic resources in advance of and throughout the permitting process. 

“Guidelines for supplemental measures to be incorporated into Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency (PPC) Plans are also outlined in the event they should be needed either during or after construction.

“The Site Suitability Analysis includes, but is not limited to, an evaluation of site topography, soil type, geology, hydrogeology, water supplies (public, private, and industrial), known oil or gas wells, mining sites, and contaminated sites.” 

“The Feasibility Analysis includes the assessment for use of trenchless technology construction as the least environmentally impacting alternative. 

“The Feasibility Analysis includes an evaluation of economics and constructability (see 25 Pa. Code §§ 105.18a(a)(3) and 105.18a(b)(3), and DEP’s Guidance for Developing a Chapter 105 Alternatives Analysis (310-2100-002)).”

“For projects that are considered above average risk, DEP recommends that local stakeholders (e.g., local municipalities, county officials, emergency managers, watershed groups, nongovernmental organizations, and other concerned citizens who have expressed interest) are consulted during the Site Suitability Analysis and Feasibility Analysis. 

“This guidance document also includes design considerations when proposing trenchless technology and construction considerations when executing trenchless technology as well as a plan submittal checklist and suggested attachments. 

Emergency Response Planning

From the guidance-- “In addition, this guidance document outlines the need for an inspection and monitoring program and most importantly the need for Emergency Response Planning.” 

“The design and permitting guidance includes identification, detailed design, and confirmation of the preferred construction method. Any plan contents and attachments required for permitting are also identified. 

“The construction and compliance guidance include personnel training, recommended pre-construction activities, preparation of an HDD drilling fluids management plan when applicable, inspection and monitoring, and emergency response planning.”

Risk Evaluation

From the guidance- “DEP recognizes that all projects do not pose the same level of risk. This guidance document may not be necessary for projects that pose little to no risk to environmental resources. 

“Project proponents are responsible to diligently evaluate all risks associated with a project and determine if the information in this guidance document may help minimize or eliminate those risks.”

The Risk Evaluation looks at nine areas--

1. Will drilling fluids be used under pressure?

2. Are you crossing under an aquatic resource

3. PNDI receipt show any threats to T&E species?

4. Are portions of the trenchless technology project located within a Zone II wellhead protection area of a Public Water System groundwater source or within a 1,000-foot radius of a potable groundwater source?

5. Are portions of the trenchless technology project located within a 2-mile radius of a Public Water System surface water intake?

6. Any evidence of contamination (e.g., USTs, Brownfield, presence of monitoring wells, etc.)?

7. Activity in steep slopes?

8. Activity in questionable geology (e.g., mines, faults, karst, etc.)?

9. Activity occurring with significant elevation difference between entry and exit? 

Foley explained-- “It's important to point out that the nine factors are factors that were developed from the start of this journey in 2018, and it includes factors that industry experts and departmental review staff working together had decided that these were factors that we wanted to include.”

He continued-- “The department believes an above average risk could exist to resources stemming from the utilization of trenchless methodologies [in these areas or risk].

“So in these scenarios, the department recommends a more in-depth analysis on any proposed trenchless methodology to help mitigate risk as much as possible.”

Siting Projects

From the guidance-- “It is important to note that DEP has a limited role in siting projects. 

“DEP strongly recommends that project proponents review if other agencies (e.g., Pennsylvania Utilities Commission) regulate pipeline siting or other obligations not regulated by DEP and coordinate early with all pertinent agencies. 

“The siting (or project location) is often selected by the project proponent and, if federally regulated, reviewed by that federal agency (e.g., the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission). 

“DEP is bound by the authorities listed in the “Authority” section above.”

Not An Endorsement Of Trenchless Technology

From the guidance-- “The issuance of this guidance document is not meant to dissuade the use of trenchless technology, nor should it form the basis for dismissing consideration of trenchless technology methods, which can help to avoid, minimize, or eliminate environmental impacts. 

“Conversely, this guidance document is not meant to indicate that DEP exclusively views trenchless technology methods as the least impacting environmental alternative in all cases. 

“Each crossing scenario should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis to make informed decisions regarding the suitability, feasibility, and environmental considerations of using trenchless technology methods.”

             Click Here for a copy of the guidance Click Here for the comment/response document.

Click Here for a copy of DEP’s presentation to the Water Resources Advisory Committee..

Click Here for an audio file of the presentation on the guidance by Andrew Foley, Water Program Specialist, DEP Regional Permit Coordinator Office.

             Visit DEP’s Trenchless Technologies Resource Page for more documents related to the technical guidance.  Questions should be directed to Andy Klinger, Bureau Director, Bureau of Waterways Engineering and Wetlands, at (717) 772-5975 or

Related Articles - Gas:

-- Penn State Study: Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Fails To Meet Beneficial Reuse Recommendations For Use As A Dust Suppressant  [PaEN]

-- DEP: Shell Petrochemical Plant Pays Additional $2,671,044.75 In Civil Penalties For 12-Month Air Quality Violations After May 2023 Consent Order  [PaEN] 

-- Western PA Residents Comment After A Year Of Shell Petrochemical Plant Operations  [PaEN] 

-- Citizen Complaint Leads DEP To Breakout Of Mariner East Pipeline Drilling Mud That Contaminated The Lake At Marsh Creek State Park, Chester County; Sunoco Pipeline Starts Cleanup [PaEN] 

-- PUC Adopts Final Regulations Strengthening Operation, Construction Requirements For Intrastate Hazardous Liquids Pipelines  [PaEN]

-- DEP Publishes Final Guidance On Environmental Consideration In Using Trenchless Technology To Construct Natural Gas, Other Pipelines  [PaEN]

-- Protect PT Hosts Feb. 27 Online Lunch & Learn With Laurie Barr About Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells  [PaEN] 

-- PJM, Electric Grid Operators Recommend Additional Steps To Overcome Vulnerabilities In Natural Gas Infrastructure To Ensure More Reliable Grid Operation  [PaEN] 

[Posted: February 23, 2024]  PA Environment Digest

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