DEP outlines revised rules on shale drilling

HARRISBURG – The Department of Environmental Protection sketched out a new set of regulatory revisions for the oil and gas industry on Thursday even as it sorts through a pile of public feedback on a major regulatory update already underway.

DEP plans to revisit its rules on well construction and plugging, which were last revised in 2011 to address the rise of Marcellus Shale drilling.

During a meeting of DEP’s oil and gas technical advisory board, agency officials unveiled general concepts for a range of new rules that might cover seismic monitoring wells, coal bed methane wells, plugging practices for horizontal wells, pressure monitoring during fracking, cement standards and other issues, both old and emerging. Actual language for the proposed rules isn’t expected before the fall, but agency officials said they wanted to begin introducing the ideas to the industry and the public as soon as possible.

“We’re at a very, very early stage in this whole process,” said Gene Pine, the head of DEP’s division of well plugging and subsurface activities.

DEP is also moving forward with proposed rules on above-ground oil and gas activities after receiving an uncommon amount of public interest in its draft, including roughly 25,000 letters, petitions and signatures.

Officials guessed those rules won’t be effective until mid-2016. They said they expect to make a significant number changes to the draft as they review the submitted suggestions, many of which urge the DEP to take opposite positions.

“I can almost see the briefs being written for the legal challenges that are going to come if the regulation proceeds as drafted,” said Kurt Klapkowski, director of DEP’s bureau of oil and gas planning and program management, adding later that he was “only half joking.”

“Whichever way we go on these issues, either the environmental groups may want to sue us or the industry may sue us,” he said.

DEP would face further delays if a proposal in the General Assembly to require the agency to create separate regulations for the traditional and shale gas drilling industries becomes law.

“The possibility exists that we would have to start the rulemaking process anew,” said Scott Perry, DEP‘s‍ deputy secretary for oil and gas management‍.

Laura Legere:

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