Policy

Bill to split conventional, shale well rules added to companion bill to state budget



A proposal to split apart regulations for the traditional and shale gas drilling industries has been inserted into amendments to the fiscal code, a crucial companion bill to the state budget that lawmakers are rushing to finish.

Legislation to create different rules for conventional and unconventional wells was endorsed by the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy committees last week, but neither House Bill 2350 nor Senate Bill 1378 has been debated by the full legislature.

On Monday, the senate appropriations committee amended the fiscal code to include several provisions that have little to do with implementing the larger budget, including a requirement that the state’s environmental rulemaking board create separate rules for the traditional and shale gas industries.

The fiscal code passed the Senate today. It must still be approved by the House.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council, an environmental group, said the move to fast-track the proposal is “an affront to transparency and the legislative process.”

“There has not yet been adequate consideration of this language, nor sufficient time for public input,” said John Walliser, the council’s vice president for legal and government affairs, in a statement.

Legislators who proposed the split, Rep. Martin Causer, R-Turtlepoint, and Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said during committee meetings last week that their legislation is meant to tailor rules to different industries, not to lessen environmental standards on conventional wells.

The conventional drilling industry has lobbied hard for the changes — in public events and in private emails to the Corbett administration — with a clear focus on relaxing both proposed and current environmental rules, including standards for inspecting the structural integrity of wells, cleaning up spills and demonstrating that solid drilling waste, called cuttings, is not contaminated.

Trade groups that represent conventional oil and gas companies say that new rules and stronger enforcement are harming the small businesses that operate many of the state’s traditional, shallow wells.

Scott Perry, the Department of Environmental Protection‘s‍ deputy secretary for oil and gas management‍, said last week that splitting apart the rules could possibly cause the agency to start all over on a major revision of its oil and gas regulations that has been in the works for more than two years.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com

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