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DEP Releases Drilling Rules Documents

New rules could help avoid interference between new and abandoned wells. (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)
New rules could help avoid interference between new and abandoned wells. (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection)
January 8, 2016

HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection this week released almost 3,000 pages of documents to support new regulations for oil and gas drillers - rules that haven't been updated since 2001.

Mike Helbing, staff attorney with the environmental group Penn Future, said the new regulations for shale gas drillers include improvements such as letting agencies in charge of schools and playgrounds review and comment on drilling plans in their area.

"Regulations also would eliminate the use of pits to store drill cuttings and waste fluids from unconventional drill operations," he said, "and provide clear standards for remediation of drinking-water supplies that have been contaminated by oil and gas operations."

According to the oil and gas industry, the rules, which will be subject to a vote next month by the Environmental Quality Board, should be scrapped and the whole process started again. However, environmentalists insist the huge expansion of shale gas drilling makes the revisions necessary.

Helbing said they could help avoid the problems that can result when a new well interacts with one of the estimated 300,000 abandoned wells in Pennsylvania.

"If there's an inadvertent connection made between an existing abandoned well and some of the new activities," he said, "it could create a pathway for the release of certain gases, including methane, into the environment."

The industry claimed that an earlier version of the proposed rules would have added $1 billion a year in new costs. The DEP estimated that the added annual cost would be less than $100 million.

Helbing said he believes no matter what the amount, sooner or later somebody is going to pay the environmental costs of drilling for oil and gas.

"If they're not paid by the industry in trying to protect the environment," he said, "they're probably going to be paid down the line by Pennsylvania citizens and taxpayers as they're trying to remediate problems that have occurred in the past."

If approved by the Environmental Quality Board, the new rules could go into effect later this year.

The DEP statement is online at files.dep.state.pa.us.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - PA