Indiana, PA - Indiana County

DEP takes comments on drilling regs in state

by on January 24, 2014 10:50 AM

More than two dozen people gave input into possible revisions to state oil and gas drilling regulations during a public hearing held Thursday by the Department of Environmental Protection at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex in White Township.

The standing-room-only hearing was headed by Scott Perry, DEP office of Oil and Gas Management; Adam Pankake, Environmental Quality Board; Hayley Book, DEP Policy Office; and John Poister, community relations coordinator for the DEP southwest office.

In 2012, Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, bringing about new regulations to oil and gas drilling in order to address the boom in the fracking and unconventional gas drilling industry. According to DEP documentation, new methods in drilling have necessitated the need to create new regulations to ensure the protection of public health, protect public resources, modernize the regulatory program and specify acceptable containment practices for spills and releases.

The DEP and EQB have encouraged the residents of Pennsylvania, both within the industry and among private citizens, to review the proposed amendments to the drilling act and respond with their comments. Comments have been delivered to the DEP’s website, www.dep.state.pa.us, as well as by email, letters and through public hearings.

Thursday’s hearing at the KCAC was one of nine convened in areas throughout the state where Marcellus and Utica shale drilling has seen the greatest increase, including Indiana, Lycoming, Cumberland and Washington counties. Because of the response, hearings will also be held in Bradford and Warren counties.

All comments will be considered in the finalization of the rulemaking, according to Pankake, and all comments will become part of the public record.

Four key provisions have been outlined by the DEP as the amended changes to the drilling act. First is the protection of public resources, which are considered a major economic contributor thanks to tourism and out-of-state visitors. Applicants for well permits will have to notify the appropriate public resource agency if the proposed well is within 200 feet of a publicly owned park or forest, national natural landmark or historic or archaeological site, and also if it is within 1,000 feet of a water well or surface water intake. Special consideration is also given if it is within a location that will impact an animal species of special concern.

The second provision is orphan or abandoned well identification. Many early Pennsylvania wells were abandoned and not properly plugged when they stopped producing. This regulation will require well operators to identify any of these wells that are within 1,000 feet of their own well and may require them to be plugged should the fracturing process alter the identified well.

The third provision deals with containment practices to reduce the potential threat of pollution to the waters of Pennsylvania. Open pits will only be allowed for temporary storage, with closed tanks required for long-term storage.

The final provision addresses the protection of water resources. Containment systems and pit liners must be inspected regularly, with a well site to be restored within nine months of completion of drilling.

Conventional drilling interests at the hearing argued that grouping conventional and unconventional drilling under the same regulations is not an avenue that should be pursued.

“The conventional operators were not meant to be in these regulations,” said Mark Cline, of Bradford, McKean County. Cline spoke on the behalf of the Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers. “The unconventional and conventional industries are completely different in many ways.”

Conventional drillers argued that their method of drilling goes straight down into the ground, not down then at a horizontal angle as in hydraulic fracking. Conventional and even shallow wells take up far less space than a hydraulic fracking well, sometimes only one-tenth of an acre versus a 5-acre fracking operation, they said.

“When we get done drilling and fracking one of our conventional wells and reclaim our locations, you can drive down the road right beside them and not even know they are there,” Cline said.

Conventional drillers also argued that, as smaller, family-owned businesses, these regulations could possibly make drilling for them impossible. The loss of a small drilling operation would be detrimental to the community of small businesses that are supported by the drilling industry.

“As some have said, one size does not fit all,” said John Hardesty, a Clymer resident and salesman for Ken Miller Supply Inc. in Indiana. “I feel as if these regulations … do hurt the shallow folks that are doing the drilling.”

Hardesty cited the loss of employees and declining sales in his business, which he attributed to the declining small drilling demand in the area.

“I’m requesting that applicable regulations be added to the two separate parts of the business,” he said.

Large-industry producers were present as well, citing a concern that the state is requiring the restoration of drinking wells to better qualities than they were originally found.

“The main concern is the DEP proposes the industry to replace a water supply to Safe Drinking Water Act standards or better, even when the results of pre-drill testing of the water supply show the water did not meet these standards in the first place,” said Susan Oliver of WPX Energy in Canonsburg, Washington County. “It is unreasonable for the DEP to require the industry to restore a private water supply to better standards than originally existed.”

Sherene Hess, president of the Indiana League of Women Voters, presented her case against the spreading of brine water on roadways.

“Without comprehensive testing and treating of brine to meet established safety standards, the risk of poisoning is too high,” she said.

Water reclaimed from fracking is often salty once brought up from the earth. This brine water is often sprayed on roads during the winter for de-icing purposes, or on dirt roads for dust control.

“The proposed standards do not serve to protect the environment and the health of the citizens of Pennsylvania,” said Jan Milburn, president of the Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens’ Group.

Milburn listed a litany of studies and cases from across the country detailing the health concerns reported by those who live near drilling sites, including those of infants who had low birth weights.

“Disrupting the (health) of our born and unborn children is serious business with a potential to lead to a multitude of diseases and developmental disruption,” she said, “yet we have well sites located within at least two miles of at least 190 day-care facilities, 223 schools and five hospitals.”

Pankake said the EQB would continue to take public comments until March 14.



Jeremy Hartley is a staff writer for The Indiana Gazette.
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