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Pennsylvania regulators drop noise regulations from new drilling rules

Pennsylvania regulators drop noise regulations from new drilling rules

August 12, 2015 9:40 PM

By Laura Legere / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is dropping plans to regulate the noise from shale gas drilling operations — at least for now.

Citing the “complex nature” of technical issues involving noise migration, the DEP decided to develop a guidance document rather than a rule for minimizing the din of drilling and fracking reaching neighbors during well development. The rule would have been part of the final draft of a comprehensive revision of its oil and gas rules slated to take effect next spring.

The agency is moving forward with most of its proposed wide-ranging updates to requirements for above-ground oil and gas operations, including requiring companies to either close or upgrade and re-permit large centralized wastewater storage ponds. Those have been implicated in soil and water contamination cases in the state in recent years.

Among other changes in the final draft of the rules, the DEP dropped a section on centralized tanks that shale operators use to hold wastewater until it can be treated and reused, electing instead to regulate those tanks and all off-site wastewater management practices under existing state residual waste rules.

Scott Perry, the DEP’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, said during a conference call to announce the final draft on Wednesday that most of the new changes were made only for clarification. The agency had retained nearly all of the significant policy changes it made this spring after considering public comments on a first draft, he said.

Those changes and some contested provisions that were maintained from the earliest drafts were extremely unpopular with both the state’s shale gas operators and its traditional drilling industry.

In a statement Wednesday, David Spigelmyer, Marcellus Shale Coalition president, said the DEP ignored the industry’s constructive comments and failed to do any real cost-benefit analysis. By the coalition’s accounting, the DEP’s proposal will cost nearly $2 billion annually “without providing meaningful environmental benefits,” he said.

“The governor’s regulatory overreach — taken together with the threat of a highest-in-the-nation energy tax, as well as persistently low global commodity prices — severely discourages investment and job creation in the Commonwealth,” Mr. Spigelmyer said.

The DEP proposed adding the noise mitigation section in March, relatively late in the multiyear process of rewriting the oil and gas rules. The department’s advisers and many public commenters were skeptical of the agency’s ability to develop an effective rule in so short a time.

Environmental Secretary John Quigley said state regulators do not believe their proposed approach to noise mitigation had been studied enough to become a regulation yet. But he said the agency will publish a set of best practices for managing noise and consider creating a rule in the future.

“DEP clearly has both the authority and the responsibility to regulate public nuisances,” he said. “Noise is without question a public nuisance. It affects local quality of life and it can be a very significant impact. We think we have a responsibility to regulate noise from this activity.”

Environmental groups, who supported the idea of noise regulations if not the department’s precise proposal, said they will keep pushing for a rule.

“We will certainly want to work with DEP on figuring out how best to mitigate the noise impacts of oil and gas development,” said Aaron Jacobs-Smith, an attorney for the Clean Air Council.

The DEP will discuss the changes to the regulatory package with its oil and gas advisory boards later this month and in early September. It will then bring the proposal to the state’s Environmental Quality Board and the Independent Regulatory Review Commission for final approval by March.

Mr. Quigley said he is confident the rules will be adopted.

“We have gone the extra mile in every way on this regulation,” he said. “We have listened to and responded to the input that we have received. We have made changes. We have done this right.”

Laura Legere:


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