State Hears Comments on New Fracking Regulations

  • About 100 people attended a hearing over the state's newest proposed fracking regulations. Photo: Reid Frazier

April 29, 2015

The Wolf administration heard for the first time public comment on its newer, tougher proposed rules for the fracking industry.

More than 70 speakers were signed up to speak at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) hearing in Washington, Pa. Wednesday. It was the first of three hearings scheduled for the latest round of proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s drilling regulations.

The DEP initially released the rules in 2013, but added proposed changes to the rule shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf took office this year. The rulemaking process began in 2011.

The proposal would ramp up regulations for noise, drilling near schools and playgrounds, reporting, and groundwater protection.

The industry says the rules are redundant and unnecessary and it's challenged the way the Wolf administration has handled a technical advisory board charged with overseeing the proposed rule changes.

Jim Welty, vice president of government affairs for the Marcellus Shale Coalition said many of the new provisions are new and may hurt the state's economy.

"We're looking at regulations that are entirely new to this industry and seem to over-regulate this industry," he said.

Welty said he was unsure if the department even had the authority to regulate noise, for instance, and said reporting requirements were tougher on the gas industry than other heavy industries.

But others who came to the meeting wanted the state to either maintain the proposed rules or go further. 

Jane Worthington, of Mt. Pleasant, Pa., said she she would like to see greater setbacks from schools. Her daughter goes to Fort Cherry Elementary School, less than a half-mile from a Marcellus shale gas well. Her 11-year-old recently began experiencing health effects Worthington attributes to 'the environment'. 

"What changes (were made) in the environment? What has changed is that we are drilling very close to our school," she said.  

Worthington would like to see a mandatory setback of "at least" one mile from schools. The new rules don't impose a setback, but make schools a "public resource", like wetlands. Permits for wells nearby would be subject to more restrictions. 

The biggest changes to the rule may be those that govern the storage and handling of the 1.8 billion gallons of fracking wastewater drillers produce each year in Pennsylvania.

The new rules would ban temporary fracking waste storage pits at well sites and increase requirements for ponds used as way stations for drilling waste.

Last year, the agency fined two companies Range Resources and EQT more than $4 million each for large leaks out of impoundments.

The rules apply to unconventional oil and gas wells drilled into deep, carbon-rich formations like the Marcellus and Utica shales. With over 9,000 shale gas wells drilled, Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas producer in the country. In only 10 years of active drilling, the Marcellus Shale has become the country’s most productive gas formation.