The 2012 Oil and Gas Act (Chapter 32, Act 13 of 2012) directed the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board (“EQB”) to adopt new rules for certain activities at well sites. On August 27, 2013, the Pennsylvania DEP (“PADEP”) announced a proposed regulation governing surface operations at and around natural gas drilling sites in the state’s Marcellus and Utica Shale formations. This proposed regulation obtained the initial approval from the EQB.
The regulation focuses on four areas related to gas drilling the state: (1) protection of public resources (e.g., parks, rivers, etc.); (2) identification of any orphan and abandoned gas wells near active sites; (3) new containment systems and practice requirements for unconventional well sites; and (4) protection of water resources.
For public resources, DEP outlined a streamlined process for applicants to consider the potential impacts to public resources during the well permitting process. After notifying the appropriate resource agency of potential nearby public resources which could be affected, the agency will make comments and recommendations to DEP and the operator. Then, DEP will determine if conditions need to be added to a well permit to ensure operators mitigate any potential impacts. For orphan or abandoned wells, the regulation requires identification of these wells along with plugging by the operator if their fracturing process alters these identified wells. For containment, the proposed regulation includes several practices for temporary storage, longer-term storage, freshwater impoundments, and secondary containment. Finally, with respect to protecting water resources, the proposed regulation includes additional requirements for liners of pits and impoundments along with outlining rules for operator response to spills and releases. Importantly, operators would be required to restore a well site, including filling pits and removing drilling supplies and equipment, within 9 months of completion of drilling.
The EQB will be accepting written public comments related to this proposed regulation in the fall. Additionally, the EQB will be conducting at least six public hearings across the state on this proposed regulation in the fall.
The proposed regulation and supporting documents can be viewed by clicking the “Draft Oil and Gas Regulations” button on the main page of the DEP website: www.dep.state.pa.us.
This article was authored by Matt S. Tyree, Jackson Kelly PLLC. For more information on the author, click here.