The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is moving to discourage and, in some cases, ban the use of open waste pits in shale gas operations in favor of closed tanks, in a revised draft of drilling rules that the agency released Monday.
The draft rules would ban waste pits at Marcellus and Utica shale gas well sites, and require companies to close or substantially upgrade large centralized wastewater storage ponds that have leaked and been implicated in soil and water contamination cases in the state in recent years.
The changes are among dozens the agency is proposing to make in its final draft of wide-ranging revisions that will direct how the oil and gas industry operates above ground. They reflect the agency’s consideration of thousands of suggestions submitted by citizens, industry representatives and environmental groups during a public comment period last year, as well as the policy priorities of the new administration, which inherited the years-long revision process that began in 2011.
Among other significant changes, the agency is moving to institute noise reduction requirements at shale well sites for the first time, as well as add schools and playgrounds to the list of public resources, like parks and historical sites, that will trigger stricter well permit reviews when drilling is planned nearby.
Acting DEP Secretary John Quigley called the proposed changes “balanced, incremental and appropriate.”
“I think this rulemaking is a great example of government that works,” he said. “It helps the industry succeed while protecting our environment and communities, and doing all of that in a transparent manner.”
Current centralized wastewater storage ponds, called impoundments, would either have to close within three years of when the rules take effect or meet the more stringent standards for liners, siting, public notice and bonding that are required for the state’s residual waste disposal impoundments.
Scott Perry, DEP’s deputy secretary for oil and gas management, said he is not aware of any shale drilling companies still using temporary on-site waste pits in the state, while six companies are currently operating a total of 17 centralized wastewater impoundments, mostly in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The proposed rules have to be finalized by early 2016 in order to keep to a mandated timeline for the development of regulations. DEP plans to open a second round of public comment on the proposals beginning in April.
This article was written by Laura Legere from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.