Gas industry files suit challenging new drilling rules in Pennsylvania

The Marcellus Shale Coalition filed a legal challenge on Thursday to Pennsylvania’s five-day-old drilling regulations, targeting specific aspects of the rules that the trade group says are vague, contradictory or exceed regulators’ authority.

The North Fayette-based organization, whose members include the state’s major shale gas operators and ancillary companies, is asking the Commonwealth Court to halt implementation of the challenged rules, which took effect on Saturday.

The Department of Environmental Protection anticipated legal challenges to its new regulations. Significant changes include procedures for screening for protected public resources and abandoned wells around proposed shale sites before drilling, as well as new waste handling and spill cleanup standards, the elimination of most pits and new construction standards for large fluid holding ponds.

In its legal filing, the Marcellus Shale Coalition targeted seven provisions, including many of the most substantial changes to the rules. Specifically, the organization is challenging sections that require its members to:

  • coordinate with agencies that manage features like state parks and school playgrounds to minimize disturbances when drilling is planned nearby,
  • identify and monitor nearby active and abandoned wells that might be disrupted by hydraulic fracturing in new wells,
  • close or rebuild fluid impoundments to satisfy more stringent construction standards,
  • submit monthly, rather than twice-yearly, waste reports,
  • and meet stricter standards for processing waste on drilling sites, restoring well sites and cleaning up spills.

The organization said its members are immediately harmed by the regulations because they are illegal, inherently burdensome and are not being implemented gradually. It asked the court for an expedited review of its challenge.

DEP took five years, including several periods for public comment and revision, to adopt the changes. Requirements for surface operations at oil and gas well sites were last updated in 2001.

Laura Legere:

First Published October 14, 2016 9:37 AM

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