Monday, July 15, 2013

Gasland 2 & The PA Regulatory Story Not Told: Five New Regulations; Doubling Oversight Staff; 1200 Violations Issued In 2010

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is headquartered in the Rachel Carson building in Harrisburg, and I walked , as the Secretary of DEP, for the first time through the doors of the Rachel Carson on September 3rd, 2008.  Shortly after arriving at DEP, I put the agency on a forced march to modernize and strengthen its drilling regulations.  That forced march included disclosing by 2009 on the DEP website the drilling chemicals that were being used in the fracking process.

In order for regulation to be strong, the rules must be clear and effective.  Enforcement staff must be adequate to enforce the rules.  And political appointees must have the will to enforce the rules against regulated industries.

By the time I left Rachel Carson for the last time as Secretary in January 2011, when Governor Corbett took office, Pennsylvania had imposed a moratorium that I wrote on further gas drilling in state forests.  Moreover, DEP had enacted 5 new gas drilling regulations, more than doubled the gas drilling staff from 88 to 210, and issued 1200 violations just in 2010 to the gas industry.  During my leadership, the Pennsylvania DEP issued twice as many violations to the gas industry as the second most aggressive state in the country.

DEP also went to regulatory war against Cabot in the Dimock gas migration case, when mistakes in gas drilling caused 18 water wells to be contaminated with methane. See Gasland 2 And The Real Story Of The Dimock Water Line at:

The 5 new drilling regulations passed from 2008 to 2011 covered a full range of issues presented by shale gas drilling.  The first of the 5 regulated the withdrawal of water for gas drilling.  Gas drilling companies were required to file a water plan that stated the sources and the volumes of water that would be used in the fracking.  The plan was only approved if the water withdrawal would not damage a river or stream, even in a drought.

The second rule regulated, essentially for the first time, the discharge of drilling waste water that had been dumped in rivers or streams for decades with little or no treatment.  The rule regulated discharges that also came from coal mining and other industrial sources and was opposed by the gas drilling industry, the coal mining industry, and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.  Despite massive opposition and thanks to support from Pennsylvania's environmental organizations and its drinking water companies, the new regulation passed in August 2010 and prevented new or expanded discharges of drilling wastewater and required that all discharges stop if a stream's total dissolved solids (TDS) reading reached 75% of the Safe Drinking Water allowable standard.  This rule stopped Pennsylvania's terrible practice of just allowing drilling and other wastewater to be dumped without treatment into rivers and streams.

The third rule established the strongest buffer protections in the nation for Pennsylvania's more than 20,000 miles of streams that are classified as High Quality.  High Quality streams have excellent water quality and are jewels of the environment.  The new rule required that no development of any type could take place within 150 feet of them and was adopted in November 2010, only after overcoming major opposition from many different business organizations.

The fourth rule strengthened across the board the design, casing, cementing and other requirements for constructing a gas well in Pennsylvania.  This rule also included mandatory disclosure of chemicals.

The fifth new rule was enacted in 2009 and raised the ridiculous $100 fee charged to drilling companies for applying for a permit.  The $100 fee had been established more than 20 years earlier and had never been increased.  The new permit fee skyrocketed to an average of $3,000 for shale gas applications.  All the money raised was used to double the gas drilling oversight staff.

In addition to these 5 new gas drilling regulations, I wrote with Secretary Quigley the moratorium on further gas drilling of the state forests.  Governor Rendell issued that moratorium in October 2010, and it continues today, something that Gasland 2 also got wrong.

By the time I left DEP in January 2011, a lot of progress had been made in modernizing and strengthening Pennsylvania's oversight of the gas drilling industry.  To state the obvious, Gasland 2 makes no mention of any of this considerable record.

Much more, however, needs to be done to strengthen regulation as well as taxation of the gas industry.  For example, flaring should be regulated more strongly; outdoor storage pits for drilling wastewater should be banned; and compressor stations should be required to install pollution controls that reduce by 90% air emissions.

Furthermore the DEP gas drilling oversight staff must be increased immediately by at least 50% and a Citizens Complaint office opened to investigate professionally and independently gas drilling complaints.  And  whenever a drilling company contaminates a water well, the drilling company must pay twice the property value of where the water well is located, even if the water well is cleaned and restored.  The payment must both compensate and punish.

Coal, oil, gas, and nuclear energy production all have substantial risks, and all must be strongly regulated to minimize their impacts. Risk and impacts can never go to zero, but strong regulation can reduce them considerably.  And vigorous enforcement can make sure that when mistakes are made, gas drilling companies and other energy producers pay to clean up and more than compensate all of those who are affected.

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