Pennsylvania's proposed natural gas surface operation rules

The Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board has approved the state’s Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed regulations governing surface operations at and near natural gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale. These regulations would require energy companies to minimize pollution stemming from surface activities in four main areas: (1) protection of water resources, (2) protection of public lands and rivers, (3) containment practices, and (4) identification of abandoned and orphaned wells. Some details of these proposed rules include:

  • Appropriate state and federal agencies must be notified if a well site is within 200 feet of a publicly owned park, forest, game land, or wild life area; within 200 feet of a national natural landmark; or within 1,000 feet of a water well, surface water intake, reservoir or other water supply extraction point used by a water purveyor (unconventional wells only).
  • Operators of gas wells or horizontal oil wells must identify any orphan or abandoned wells within 1,000 feet of the vertical and horizontal well bores, prior to hydraulic fracturing.
  • Plugging is required if the fracturing process alters the abandoned well.
  • Open pits may only be used for temporary storage. The pits must have liners of minimum thickness, be compatible with the wastes that will be stored therein, and be fenced in completely.
  • Underground or partially buried tanks cannot be used to store brine unless approved by the DEP. 
  • Operators must employ secondary containment at unconventional well sites (e.g., liners or double walled tanks, etc.) to prevent regulated substances from reaching the state’s waters.
  • Rules for an operator’s response to spills and releases are included.
  • Pipeline construction companies must develop Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency Plans when performing horizontal directional drilling under a waterway.
  • Operators must restore a well site, including filling pits and removing drilling supplies and equipment within 9 months of completion of drilling.

These proposed rules must be reviewed by the appropriate state offices before being opened up for public comments. After the public comment period ends, final approval from the standing committees in the General Assembly is needed.