Wolf signs bill settling fight over drilling regulations

Marc Levy, Associated Press

Legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday killed tougher regulations over Pennsylvania's traditional shallow oil and gas drilling industry that were approved in April by an independent regulatory board.

 

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Legislation signed by Gov. Tom Wolf on Thursday killed tougher regulations over Pennsylvania's traditional shallow oil and gas drilling industry that were approved in April by an independent regulatory board.

The bill Wolf signed was part of an agreement with lawmakers to settle a drawn-out fight over the regulations written by Wolf's Department of Environmental Protection.

Lawmakers have said the fight over the regulations also played a role in Wolf's dismissal last month of his first environmental protection secretary, John Quigley.

The agreement ends an effort by lawmakers to overturn the entire slate of regulations, which also apply to the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry. Wolf, a Democrat, said his administration will start work to redraft new regulations for the traditional, shallow drilling industry. The industry involves smaller exploration companies drilling far less expensive and productive wells that do not require nearly as much water or create nearly as much waste.

The Wolf administration said the new regulations are required by a 2012 law designed to modernize the state's oil and gas drilling rules. The administration said the public and environment also need to be protected. There are more than 120,000 active wells in Pennsylvania recording more than 2,000 violations in some years, state officials said.

"DEP has a responsibility to ensure that these operations are being conducted safely and with best contemporary practices," the Wolf administration said in a statement.

The regulations require drillers to identify schools or playgrounds near wells and, if water supplies are damaged, drillers will have to fix them or replace them with alternatives that meet federal standards.

Drillers also must stop storing waste in pits or using brine to keep down dust or to de-ice.

Before April, drilling regulations for the traditional industry were last updated in 2011 to address casing, cementing and well plugging requirements.

Kevin Moody, general counsel for the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association, which represents members of the state's traditional oil and gas drilling industry, said he did not believe the industry needs new regulations. But he and the organization's president, Louis D'Amico, said they hope the Wolf administration will draft the regulations with input from the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Advisory Committee being created by the new law.

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