Return to main blog

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

DEP hones oil, gas rules

State environmental regulators are moving closer to a major revision of Pennsylvania’s oil and gas rules to address surface impacts caused by the development of pipelines, pits, impoundments and well sites.
The Department of Environmental Protection recently translated conceptual changes it outlined last year into much more precise draft rulemaking language that will be discussed at an advisory board meeting next week. The hope is to adopt the finalized rules by next winter.
The 73 pages of proposed rule changes largely turn several separate policies and last year’s amendments to the Oil and Gas Act into a single set of regulations contained in Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code.
They create new limits on how wastes can be stored and processed on well sites, stricter standards for containing and reporting spills, and the first rules for temporary pipelines that transport fresh and wastewater to and from wells.
Robert Watson, Ph.D., a member of the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board, called the proposals a “big deal” but said he believes they are “still in flux.” The challenge, he said, is to modernize regulations so they apply to the growing and sophisticated unconventional oil and gas industry in the state – including large corporations that harvest gas from the Marcellus and Utica shales – without putting the state’s traditionally small, conventional oil and gas operators out of business.
His personal opinion of the proposals is that “some of them may be overstated” but that the “intent is well founded” and he tends to support them, he said.
“Regulations with respect to industries that may impact potable water are necessary,” he said. “I want to make sure that they are technically sound and they’re doable.”
In one of the more notable proposals, the rules would have well operators ask for help from nearby landowners to track down any old, abandoned wells they might know of that are hidden on their properties. Operators would also have to use state data and farm line maps to identify any known abandoned wells within 1,000 feet of the path of a new well bore, including its horizontal leg, then monitor those abandoned wells during hydraulic fracturing and plug them if they are altered when the new well is fracked.
Orphaned and abandoned wells can create pathways for methane or other pollution to reach water supplies.
The proposed rules would eliminate some conventional operators’ use of long-term pits to hold the brine produced by a well during its lifetime, an “antiquated practice” with a “high” potential for failure, DEP spokesman Kevin Sunday said.
“While few, if any, operators who are active today use these pits, DEP feels it is time that this practice be eliminated as an option.” Read more: