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December 13, 2013

New Oil and Gas Regulations for Pennsylvania

New regulations affecting oil and gas surface activities were announced by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PADEP”) and the Environmental Quality Board (“EQB”) on Thursday, December 12th.   The new regulations are needed to implement parts of Pennsylvania’s 2012 Oil and Gas Act (“Act 13”), which strengthened environmental protection at oil and gas sites.  Proposed changes include additional requirements for abandoned wells, containment practices, and construction standards.  The amendments also address impacts to public and natural resources through heightened application review in certain areas.

With an estimated 250,000 orphaned or abandoned wells in the state, the new provisions require operators to identify abandoned wells within 1,000 feet of well bores before they begin  hydraulic fracturing.  Visual monitoring and plugging will be performed depending on the location of the abandoned bore and impacts from new fracturing.

The proposed containment standards and practices are more stringent than existing rules.  Open pits will only be allowed for temporary storage and must adhere to standards for liner thickness, testing, and security.  Freshwater impoundments will need to be lined, registered, and fenced-in.  Restrictions on long-term storage include a ban on open top structures for produced water and use of underground storage tanks for brine by approval only.   While some sites already employ secondary containment, all unconventional well sites will now be required to have secondary containment including liners, dykes, berms, and double-walled tanks.

Pipeline construction companies will be required to follow new standards and protocols such as developing a Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plan when horizontal directional drilling is used under a waterway.  Operators must have an approved Water Management Plan for water withdrawals as well as follow response procedures for spills and releases.  Once drilling is complete, well sites will need to be restored within nine months.

If a well site is located with a buffer zone adjacent to a public resource such as a park or wildlife area, applicants will have to notify the appropriate resource agency.  The resource agency may provide comments and recommendations on the well permit application, however, the PADEP will have the final say on the permit conditions and mitigation.

While the DEP asserts no new or previously unregulated entities will be affected, the proposed revisions will mean higher costs for consultant fees, safety and security, inspections and testing, and secondary containment.

Public Hearings will be held by the EQB throughout the state, but have yet to be scheduled.  In addition, two webinars are planned for December 11, 2013 and January 3, 2014.  The public comment period begins tomorrow, December 14, 2013, and will close on February 12, 2014.

The proposed regulations can be accessed here: Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations

To register for the webinars, follow the links available at: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/webinars/21506

Comments on the proposed regulations can be submitted at: http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments/Agreement.aspx  or emailed to RegComments@pa.gov.

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