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New Pa. shale drilling rules to take effect after years of back-and-forth

After consuming six years, a series of public meetings andthe job of one secretary of environmental protection, Pennsylvania's newunconventional drilling regulations are set to take effect Oct. 8.

The new regulations prohibit the storage of waste in pits atshale wells, calling for waste to be stored in tanks with secondaryimpoundments. Drillers will also have to restore any tainted water to itsoriginal condition or better. The new rules, Chapter 78a of the PennsylvaniaCode, presume that any water contamination near a new well is the driller'sfault but allow for pre-drilling water tests to rebut that presumption.

The rule sets 100 feet as the general setback distance of awell from water resources but requires notification of responsible stateagencies if a well is within 200 feet of a public park or forest, as well asnotification of a public water utility if it is within 1,000 feet of autility's water extraction point.

The new oil and gas regulations affect only unconventionalshale drillers. A concurrent section governing conventional wells was removedfrom the updated package after the conventional drilling community complainedloudly that it was a "cut and paste" of the unconventional packagewith expensive new requirements that had little application to the conventionalindustry.

Environmental groups were pleased with the new rules, butshale gas drillers were dismayed.

David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus ShaleCoalition, said the new rules will add $2 billion annually to the industry'scosts while providing little improvement to the environment. "That said,our industry will continue to meet or exceed the high bar set by Act 13, acommon sense bipartisan law that modernized our oil and natural gas regulatoryframework and still serves as a national model for other states,"Spigelmyer said Oct. 7.

"The Marcellus Shale Coalition worked in good faithover the last four years to provide constructive input during the publiccomment periods, as well as with regulators and legislators alike,"Spigelmyer added.

"In addition to years of drilling without comprehensiveoversight, industry has had many opportunities to weigh in on the revisedregulations," Thomas Au, conservation chairman with the PennsylvaniaSierra Club, said when the rules passed regulatory review in April."Operators and legislators should stop fighting common sense regulation ofthe industry and start conducting their activities responsibly."

Legislators had threatened to derail the unconventional rules earlier inthe year but stood down after the conventional rules were removed from thepackage for revision.

In April, John Quigley, then the secretary of environmentalprotection, fired offan expletive-laden email to environmental groups lambasting them for what hesaw as a lack of public support for himself and Wolf.

After the email came a barrage of print and radioadvertisements by PennFuture, the Natural Resources Defense Council and others,calling for a fast track for new drilling regulations and a draft clean airplan for power plants. The email was revealed publicly by Harrisburg'sCapitolwire news service May 19. Quigley resigned the next day.