The state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) will hold a public hearing on proposed oil and gas surface activities for conventional and unconventional operators at the Warren County Courthouse at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Feb. 12.
The public comment period has also been extended for 30 days, ending on March 14.
"One of the clear messages we've been getting through this hearing and comment process, from both industry and environmental groups, is that we should hold additional hearings and extend the comment period," DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said in a press release. "Public participation is a key component when crafting these regulations, and we are happy to accommodate this extended period."
The Environmental Quality Board, a 20-member independent board chaired DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo to propose the department's regulations and consider petitions to change the oil and gas regulations, held a public meeting in Meadville on Jan. 15.
"Nine public hearings and a total of 90 days for public comment is unprecedented; we are committed to understanding the concerns of all Pennsylvanians on this important state regulation," Abruzzo said.
Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, which revised Pennsylvania's oil and gas laws, to address the growing unconventional well development of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.
The law, known as Act 13, was meant to ensure the, "safe and responsible development oil and gas resources, and it included many new environmental safeguards," said a DEP spokesperson.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down portions of Act 13 last month and ruled in favor of municipalities that had challenged the law's limits on zoning of oil and gas operations.
"Although most of the proposed regulation is unaffected by the ruling, DEP anticipates having more clarity from the court before it is presented as a final regulation, and in consultation with our attorneys, will make any necessary changes to the final regulation to ensure that it conforms with the court's decision," DEP said.
Residents can participate in a number of ways, including attending the public hearings and submitting comments to the EQB. For more information visit the DEP's Public Participation Center or review the regulations under the Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations at www.depweb.state.pa.us.
To participate in public hearings, residents are required to contact the EQB at least one week in advance of the hearing to reserve a time. They can call 717-787-4526 or write Environmental Quality Board, P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477. Witnesses are limited to five minutes of testimony and are requested to submit three written copies of their testimony at the hearing. Organizations are limited to designating one witness to present testimony on their behalf at each hearing. Individuals in need of accommodations provided in the Americans with Disabilities Act should contact the EQB to discuss their needs or make accommodations through the Pennsylvania AT&T Relay Service at 800-654-5984 (TDD) or 800-654-5988 for voice users.
Online comments and a one-page summary of their comments can be submitted to the EQB by March 14 by visiting Online Public Comment System at www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments.
Written comments and summaries should be mailed to the Environmental Quality Board, P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477. The summaries and formal comment and response document will be distributed to the EQB and available publicly prior to the meeting when the final rule making will be considered.
Email comments can be submitted to RegComments@pa.gov and must be received on or before March 14. The DEP says if senders do not receive an acknowledgment of submitted comments online or by email within two business days, the comments should be re-sent to the EQB.
To view materials for the proposed regulation, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click the "Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations" button.
Key provisions of the regulation:
The DEP's proposed regulations touch on a number of areas for conventional and unconventional drillers including impacts to public resources like parks and wildlife areas; prevention of spills; waste management; well site restoration after drilling; construction standards for gathering lines; temporary pipelines; and the identification and monitoring of abandoned wells near proposed well sites.
Visit www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/public-resources/20303/surface-regulations/1587188 for more information.
Protection of Public Resources
Oil and gas drillers seeking a well permit will be required to notify the appropriate public resource agency, such as the department of Conservation and Natural Resources or the Pennsylvania Game Commission if a well site is within:
200 feet of a publicly-owned park, forest, game land or wildlife area
In or within the corridor of a state or national scenic river
Within 200 feet of a national natural landmark
In a location that will impact other critical communities (species of special concern)
Within 200 feet of a historical or archaeological site listed on the federal or state list of historic places, or
Within 1,000 feet of a water well, surface water intake, reservoir or other water supply extraction point used by a water purveyor
DEP will make final determination on the permit and can add, "conditions to a well permit to ensure operators mitigate any potential impacts," according to the DEP.
Those conditions, however, cannot stop the applicant from accessing the oil and gas and the applicant can appeal the DEP's determination.
For the first time, drillers will be required to submit permits electronically through the DEP's website.
Abandoned and Orphan Well Identification
DEP estimates there are nearly 250,000 wells that are not properly plugged in Pennsylvania and are considered a hazard to the environment, and health and safety of Pennsylvanians.
Operators of gas wells or horizontal oil wells are required to identify any orphan or abandoned wells within 1,000 feet of the vertical and the horizontal well bores before hydraulic fracturing.
Required visual monitoring of identified orphan or abandoned wells "that are likely to have penetrated the formation intended to be stimulated during hydraulic fracturing activities."
Require plugging by the operator if their fracturing process alters the identified abandoned well.
The DEP developed provisions to address requirements for unconventional well sites.
Open pits can only be used for the temporary storage of materials as production pits are banned.
Pits must have a liner of minimum thickness and be compatible with the wastes that will be stored.
Pit seems must be tested before use.
Pits must be fenced-in completely to prevent vandalism and damage from wildlife unless there is 24-hour security on site.
Modular storage must be approved by DEP.
Tank valves and access lids must be locked to prevent unauthorized access.
Open top structures are not permitted to store produced water.
Underground or partially buried tanks cannot be used to store brine unless approved by DEP.
All tanks should be protected from unauthorized third parties.
Impoundments must be constructed with a synthetic impervious liner.
Must be registered with DEP.
Must be fenced to prevent access by third parties and wildlife.
Must be restored, unless approved by landowner.
Operators will be required to use a secondary containment at unconventional well sites.
Subsurface secondary containment is optional.