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Aug. 12 — The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) issued its most recent draft of a final rulemaking for oil and gas wells Aug. 12, deleting provisions on noise control and centralized wastewater storage tanks and promising to begin a new round of rulemaking immediately.
“This is not the end of the process of ensuring responsible drilling in Pennsylvania,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said during a webcast on the revised rules Aug. 12. “Given the time frame it takes to get a regulation enacted, it's clear to us that we need to begin immediately on developing the next set of regulatory proposals.”
The rulemaking on “Environmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites,” also known as Chapters 78 and 78a, seeks to amend existing regulations for oil and gas wells to improve protection of water resources, better protect public health and safety, address landowner concerns, include greater consideration of public resources, and improve data management. The rules intend to balance the needs of industry, public health and the environment while enabling drilling to proceed, the DEP said.
The most recent revisions to Chapter 78, the part of the rule that covers conventional oil and gas drilling, will be discussed at the next meeting of the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC) Aug. 27. Revisions to Chapter 78a, which covers unconventional natural gas drilling involving hydraulic fracturing, will be discussed by the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board on Sept. 2.
Scott Perry, deputy secretary of DEP's Office of Oil and Gas Management, noted that there are “substantial differences” between the rules for conventional oil and gas drilling in Chapter 78 and unconventional gas drilling in Chapter 78a.
For example, the revision eliminates the use of pits for storage at unconventional well sites because the size of the pits and the volume of materials stored proved to be “an environmentally unsound practice,” Perry said. Conventional well site operators will still be able to use pits because experience has shown that it can be done in a way that is environmentally sound, Perry said.
The most recent version of the rules also makes two “significant revisions” by eliminating sections on noise mitigation and centralized tank storage, according to Perry.
It became clear that finalizing a regulation on noise “at this point in time was premature,” because there were still many “technical issues and challenges” to be addressed, Perry said. The department will consider noise mitigation in future regulations, and in the meantime will act on a case-by-case basis, Perry said.
Among other changes, the draft revises definitions for a number of terms including “playground,” “oil and gas operations,” “other critical communities,” “containment system,” “threatened or endangered species” and “wellhead protection area.”
“Plugged wells” has been added to the list of wells that must be identified when reviewing an area for drilling and be addressed in monitoring plans.
And in terms of onsite processing, a new subsection will require operators processing fluids or drill cuttings on a well site to develop an action plan for monitoring and responding to radioactive materials that are produced, bringing operators in line with off-site waste treatment facilities, according to a summary of the draft changes.
The DEP hopes to submit a final version of the rule to Pennsylvania's Environmental Quality Board, an independent 20-member board that adopts all DEP regulations, by the end of 2015.
The DEP must submit a final version to the state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission , which reviews all proposed and final regulations from Pennsylvania state agencies, by March 2016 or the rulemaking process will start over.
Quigley called the recent draft a “culmination of one of the largest public participation efforts that the DEP has ever seen,” involving 12 public hearings and two public comment periods that generated nearly 30,000 comments. Efforts to revise the regulation began in 2011.
The department is already in the process of developing a list of items to include in the next regulatory package, and will be coming out with more detailed information about the package “probably in the fourth quarter of this year,” Quigley said.
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