What are the strengths and weaknesses of state regulation of gas drilling? Do regulatory gaps exist? What can be learned by states from each other? Resources For The Future (RFF) provides a service by comparatively reviewing state regulations and using an accessible presentation to answer these questions.
RFF's task was difficult because state regulations are voluminous, customized, and different. It is also close to impossible to capture nuances within rules that can be crucial. Given the difficulty of the task, I not surprisingly found some points that I would recommend be updated concerning the description of Pennsylvania regulation.
For example, on the first "map" that concerns pre-drill water testing, Pennsylvania is reported to either address pre-drill water testing in permits or not regulate it. Pennsylvania's law on pre-drill water testing is actually found in a statute that was in fact amended just this year.
Under Pennsylvania statutes, if a gas company does not perform pre-drill water testing of a water well within 2,500 feet of a drilling operation, and if owners of water wells make claims of pollution after drilling takes place, a rebuttable presumption exists that the gas drilling caused the pollution. The law this year was made stronger by extending from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet the zone where a rebuttable presumption exists.
Most importantly, regardless of what the law states, pre-drill water testing of water wells even further away then 2500 feet is now almost universal.
The RFF discussion at page 9 of Pennsylvania's setback requirements from water resources misses one important protection. In November 2010, Pennsylvania enacted a highly protective water buffer requirement for its more than 20,000 miles of High Quality streams in the country. The rule is not specifically about gas drilling but requires a 150-feet buffer from development of all sorts. This rule was enacted as part of a broad strenghtening of environmental protections of water supplies that Pennsylvania enacted, as shale gas drilling began.
The RFF paper does correctly identify the lack of regulation of flaring and venting in Pennsylvania. This is a state regulatory gap that will be addressed by the EPA April 2012 rule gas production air emission rule.
Getting right the content of rules, the words on the page, is but the first step toward professional, independent regulation. Rules then must be enforced. And most importantly a culture of safety must take root in every company in the industry. RFF's study contributes to that vital process.