Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ready to Weigh in on Oil and Gas Rules Wolf Administration to Get Draft Revisions by Next Month

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Ready to Weigh in on Oil and Gas Rules Wolf Administration to Get Draft Revisions by Next Month

Article excerpt

The next draft of a controversial package of state environmental rules for oil and gas well sites is due to be revealed near the beginning of March, and observers will be watching to see how Gov. Tom Wolf's administration leaves its mark on the standards.

The wide-ranging revisions will change how the oil and gas industry operates above ground, and influence everything from pits and pipelines to the protection of public resources around drilling sites.

A draft of the final rules was expected to be discussed by an oil and gas advisory board to the state Department of Environmental Protection on Jan. 22, two days after Mr. Wolf was inaugurated. The meeting was canceled because the draft "had not undergone sufficient review at that point," a DEP spokeswoman said.

DEP now is preparing to present the revisions to the advisory board on March 5.

The delay gives regulators more time to address an unprecedented volume of suggestions submitted by citizens, industry representatives and environmental groups on how to change the first draft offered last year.

It also gives the Wolf administration, including acting DEP Secretary John Quigley and two members of the governor's executive staff who served as DEP secretaries for former Gov. Ed Rendell, a chance to scrutinize the proposals.

DEP officials already had publicly identified scores of contested ideas in their original draft that commenters had urged them to strengthen, weaken or drop. The new draft will reveal where regulators came down on those debates and provide an early indication of how the Wolf administration intends to handle environmental oversight of the industry.

"There are some people - I'm not one of them at this point - who think the administration is going to come in with a broom and just sweep a lot of the proposed rules out and start all over again," said Gary Slagel, a government relations coordinator with the law firm Steptoe & Johnson who serves as an industry representative on the DEP oil and gas advisory board.

"I don't think that is in anyone's best interest, particularly the administration," Mr. Slagel said. "The sooner they get those rules in place, the sooner they're going to have the additional regulation that's called for by those rules."

During the campaign and after his inauguration, Mr. Wolf said he supports natural gas development with stronger regulations, but he rarely ventured into specifics. Some of his deputies, though, expressed clear opinions on the DEP's proposed rules in past positions before they joined the new administration.

Mr. Quigley kept a blog about environmental policy issues from 2012 until last month and wrote several times about Pennsylvania's draft drilling rules or operational issues covered by them. He called DEP's proposed review procedure for minimizing impacts to public resources like parks and historical sites "very weak" and "strongly tilted in favor of development, and against public lands protection. …

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