West Mifflin pressures county on airport

HARRISBURG — Environmental regulators have begun to decide what to change and what to leave in a substantial revision to the state’s oil and gas regulations they hope will take effect by the middle of 2016.

The hard choices are still to come.

Officials with the state Department of Environmental Protection presented their first thoughts Thursday about how they will adapt their draft rules for above-ground activities at oil and gas sites to address thousands of suggestions submitted by citizens, industry representatives and environmental groups during a public comment period this year.

In a few cases, especially concerning ways to accommodate traditional oil and gas wells, the department has decided what to change and how to change it. Far more often, the agency has identified contested ideas on which it has not yet taken a final position — everything from the definition of “oil and gas operations” to how companies should search for abandoned wells.

DEP has decided that some proposed regulations regarding well site security features, temporary overland pipelines and gathering pipelines for transporting gas will apply to shale gas operations but not conventional oil and gas operations, which generally involve shallow vertical wells, Kurt Klapkowski, director of DEP’s bureau of oil and gas planning and program management, told an advisory board.

The agency has decided to change a proposal regarding the steepness of pit slopes for conventional operators after companies raised concerns that they would have to dig bigger pits and disturb more land to comply with the proposed rule. DEP also plans to drop a proposal that all buried tanks will have to be removed from well sites. Instead it will set construction and maintenance standards for the buried tanks.

“I would not say it is an exhaustive final list,” Mr. Klapkowski said. “Frankly, there are a number of other issues that we simply haven’t brought to a resolution at this point.”

DEP officials also presented the oil and gas advisory board with rough drafts of drilling regulations that have been split to address Pennsylvania’s traditional wells separately from its shale gas wells.

An amendment inserted into a state budget-related bill this summer required regulators to divide the rules, which will now be contained in separate chapters of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection regulations.

The two draft chapters are not dramatically different because, Mr. Klapkowski said, “There really aren’t a whole lot of things that on their face only apply to either conventional or unconventional wells.”

But the split chapters will be the foundation for future changes as regulators decide whether some rules should be tailored to the different industries.

Laura Legere: llegere@post-gazette.com.

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