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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Pennsylvania DEP Amending Fracking Rules

The Pennsylvania State Department of Environmental Protection is proposing to make far-reaching amendments to oil and gas regulations governing Marcellus Shale gas developments.  The more than 100 proposed changes in a 23-page draft "concept paper" indicates stronger rules are needed to protect Pennsylvania's surface and groundwater resources.

The document is the first step in a regulatory rewrite, required by the 2012 Act 13 Amendments to the state's 1984 Oil and Gas Act, and was circulated to the DEP's Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board earlier this month. The five-member board, appointed by the governor, has scheduled public meetings Sept. 17 and Oct. 15 in Harrisburg to review as-yet-to-be-completed regulatory language based on the proposals.

Among the more notable proposals in the concept paper are:

1) the elimination of the drilling industry's use of in-ground pits for storage of "produced fluids," which are briny liquids that flow back to the surface after a well has been hydraulically fractured,

2) a requirement to locate and map abandoned gas and oil wells near new well sites that could allow methane to migrate into shallow aquifers.

3) require drillers to build secondary containment structures around all new permanent storage tanks (to American Petroleum Institute standards) to protect nearby waterways and regulate on-site wastewater treatment processes and pipelines for the first time.

According to the DEP's concept paper, there are tens of thousands of tanks containing produced fluids that have no adequate secondary containment, which has resulted in numerous spills and releases of produced fluids into the environment over many decades.

While a proposal would eliminate use of storage pits for produced fluids, it doesn't say whether produced fluids are just salty brine flushed from the deep shale formation or also the so-called "flowback fluid" containing fracking chemicals. Critics not that if produced fluids are only brines and they pose an unacceptable risk, wouldn't it stand to reason that flowback fluid does as well?

The DEP in a statement said the proposals are just memorializing existing regulations or industry practices. The DEP's plans call for finalizing the proposed language of the regulatory changes at the technical advisory board meeting Nov. 15 and submitting the final regulatory language for consideration by the state Environmental Quality Board on Dec. 12. (Pittsburg Post-Gazette, 8/28/2012)

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