Drilling Safeguards Proposed

Article excerpt

Environmentalists and drillers are gearing up for a fight over how best to protect rivers and drinking water as the state implements the biggest change to its oil and gas laws in 30 years.

The state Department of Environmental Protection released 74 pages of proposed regulations on Tuesday aimed at shielding the state's drinking wells and rivers from the Marcellus shale drilling industry.

"The most important provisions are those that are designed to improve the protection of water quality," said David Hess, DEP secretary under former Gov. Tom Ridge and a Harrisburg lobbyist whose clients include environmental groups.

The regulations would ban permanent storage of hydraulic fracturing fluid in open pits and require drillers to notify state agencies if they plan to drill near a scenic river, among other rules, according to a summary.

The rules are the first to be issued under the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, said DEP spokeswoman Lisa Kasianowitz. They also aim to protect the state's $1 billion in industries tied to natural resources, the DEP said.

"This puts Pennsylvania pretty far ahead of other states in environmental protection measures," Hess said.

But not far enough, some say.

Among the concerns raised by environmental groups, a proposed rule against open-air storage pits doesn't ban them outright and another governing abandoned wells doesn't go far enough.

"There are many things that are missing from the rules, and we're certainly intending to bring them up during the public comment period," said Myron Arnowitt, state director of Clean Water Action.

The public comment period will last 60 days, rather than the normal 30 days, and will include six public hearings, the DEP said. At issue are the two main areas of contention in the 5-year-old Marcellus shale boom: water and jobs.

Rivers define the state -- from the Delaware to the Chesapeake- feeding Susquehanna to the headwaters of the Ohio -- and nearly half of the state's 12.8 million people get their water from wells that the state doesn't regulate, according to the DEP.

But unemployment remains stubbornly high, stuck at 7.5 percent for the last three months. The Marcellus shale gas industry employs more than 20,000 people directly, with nearly 200,000 people working in ancillary industries in the state, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

The fracking industry held its fire on Tuesday. The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an energy industry group, didn't identify any problems with the proposed regulations because they're still reviewing them, a spokesman said. …