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DEP Extends Public Comment Period, Schedules More Public Hearings on Environmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is providing more opportunity for the public to comment on revisions to the Environmental Protection Performance Standards at Oil and Gas Well Sites (Chapter 78 and 78a). DEP is extending the current public comment period by an additional 15 days, to 45 days, and adding three public hearings.

This public comment period opened April 4, and has been extended from 30 days to 45 days, and will close on May 19. In addition, DEP will hold three public hearings, including two in the northern tier, and one in the southwest. Exact times and locations for these hearings will be announced as they are confirmed.

The purpose of this rulemaking is to modify and update existing requirements related to surface activities associated with the development of conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells, and implement Act 13 of 2012.

“This oil and gas rulemaking will have a lasting impact on Pennsylvania’s people, environment, and energy economy,” Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley said. “It is imperative that DEP goes the extra mile, takes that extra step, and puts in this additional work to modernize and strengthen these regulations. We are committed to protecting public health and the environment, while promoting responsible drilling.”

Development of this rulemaking began in 2011 to update existing regulations to reflect advances in technology. In 2012, Act 13 significantly revised the commonwealth’s oil and gas laws and directed DEP to promulgate regulations to implement its environmental enhancements.

On August 27, 2013, Pennsylvania’s Environmental Quality Board adopted DEP’s proposed rulemaking, which was published in the Pennsylvania Bulletin for public comment on December 14, 2013. That opened a 90-day public comment period that included nine public hearings, and generated more than 24,000 comments.

Continuing DEP’s commitment to providing the public with a significant meaningful opportunity to comment, DEP most recently opted to create this additional public comment through the voluntary extra step of an Advance Notice of Final Rulemaking (ANFR). ANFR allows DEP to solicit comments on the changes made from the proposed rulemaking to draft final rulemaking in a structured, transparent and efficient manner.

“Even before we opened this latest comment period on April 4, we heard requests for more time from the General Assembly, the public and the regulated community,” Quigley said. “Our goal is to help the industry succeed while protecting our environment and communities, and we believe that the additional time and hearings will do that in a transparent way.”

The draft final amendments provide separate chapters related to conventional and unconventional development. The amendments are offered to improve protection of water resources, add public resources considerations, protect public safety, address landowner concerns, and enhance transparency and improve data management.

The Department will prepare responses to the comments received as part of the continued development of the final rulemaking. DEP expects to return to the two relevant advisory councils, the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board and the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee, in the fall with a final rulemaking. DEP anticipates that the rules will become effective in spring 2016.

The proposed amendments are available here.