Comments on Pennsylvania’s proposed surface operations rules

The comment period for the Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed surface operations rules ended on March 14, 2014. These proposed rules would update Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code relating to the construction and operation of oil and gas wells. The proposals focus on surface activities on and off well sites, such as waste handling, spill prevention, pipelines, pits and the protection of natural resources.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC), an advocate for the natural gas industry, indicated that compliance with the proposed regulations would cost drillers between $200 million and $300 million annually, much higher than the estimate of $75 million to $96.6 million made by the DEP.

This significant underestimation indicates that the DEP “has failed to provide an adequate fact-based analysis…[to] allow for an objective assessment” to determine if additional environmental protection measures are needed. In particular, the MSC criticized the proposed new “prescriptive” requirements for impoundments storing freshwater (section 78.59b), characterizing them as “arbitrary and capricious” since no other industry in Pennsylvania is subject to similar rules.

On the other hand, the MSC supports the proposed requirement to identify abandoned and orphaned wells prior to hydraulic fracturing (section 78.52a) and also the proposal to facilitate the maximum reuse of produced water (section 78.58).

This post was written by Barclay Nicholson ( or 713.651.3662) from Norton Rose Fulbright's Energy Practice Group.