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Pa. gas drilling rules on way to final review after legislative rejection

Energy committees in both houses of Pennsylvania's GeneralAssembly rejected a proposed set of surface regulations governing natural gasdrilling, but the head of the state Department of Environmental Protectionbelieves they will be approved by an independent commission.

"The Legislature is exercising their prerogative toreview the regulations," Secretary John Quigley said April 13. "Theseregulations have been written with an unprecedented amount of publicparticipation. The final regulation package is the result of all public inputprovided, as well as the department's experience with both conventional andunconventional oil and gas activities. I am confident that they will beapproved by [the Independent Regulatory Review Commission] and ultimatelyadopted."

The House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energycommittees on April 12 rejected the new Chapter 78 and 78a rules, largely onparty-line votes.

Conventional vertical drillers have long complained that thestate's 2012 overhaul of drilling codes, Act 13, burdened their simpler operations with mandatesmore appropriate to their higher-horsepower brethren in the unconventionaldrilling business.

The new rules would cover such items as the location andrequirements for waste pits, water resource planning, and reporting.Unconventional drillers would not be allowed to use waste pits, would berequired to have a water management plan for each well, and would have toreport production volumes and waste amounts monthly.

Conventional drillers would be allowed to use waste pitswith a restriction to their size, would not be required to have a watermanagement plan and would report volumes annually.

The department spent five years crafting the rules, whichreceived nearly 28,000 public comments during two comment periods and a dozenpublic hearings.

Republican lawmakers said the rules still place an undueburden on conventional drillers while at the same time committing technical violationsof administrative procedure in Pennsylvania, such as requiring new forms ofpaperwork while missing the deadline to produce the actual forms.

Democrats disagreed, including in a testy House committeeexchange between the committee chairman, Republican Rep. John Maher ofAllegheny County, and ranking member Rep. Greg Vitali of Delaware County.

"I've been working on this for over four years,"Vitali said. "These regulations are long overdue. There is a concertedeffort by the conventional industry not to be regulated. That's really what'sgoing on."

The rejection by both chambers of the legislature "shouldweigh heavily on the Independent Regulatory Review Commission, encouraging thatgroup to reject the regs," Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas AssociationPresident Lou D'Amico said April 13.

The nonpartisan review commission was created in 1982 by theLegislature to review state regulations for their appropriateness and costs.Staff is due to release its comments April 14, with the full commission scheduledto take up the rules April 21.