Scores testified at local oil and gas regs hearings

The state Department of Environmental Protection added a public hearing at the Warren County Courthouse earlier this month about proposed changes to conventional and unconventional oil and gas regulations to increase public participation.

“One of the clear messages we’ve been getting through this hearing and comment process, from both industry and environmental groups, is that we should hold additional hearings and extend the comment period,” DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo said when additional meetings were added. “Public participation is a key component when crafting these regulations, and we are happy to accommodate this extended period.”

The public comment period has also been extended for 30 days, ending on March 14.

On Feb. 12, DEP got all it hoped for, and more.

For over five hours, 62 commenters, mostly multi-generational shallow well producers and ancillary businesses from Warren County and the surrounding area testified the proposed regulations are suited for large multinational corporations drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus shale, not for conventional well producers who have been operating in the Pennsylvania oil patch for over 150 years.

The meeting went so long that DEP Community Relations Coordinator Gary Clark said his cellphone, used to make sure each commenter stayed within the five-minute time frame, ran out of battery before the night was over.

The DEP received 2,000 comments on the proposed oil and gas regulations before the nine public meetings were held, and now the process of addressing the pertinent issues submitted to the Environmental Quality Board begins.

The DEP will go through every question and every comment, Clark said. Eventually, DEP will make an announcement when responses to issues that were raised will be posted.

And there could be further public meetings if there are changes to the regulations, he said.

“Nine public hearings and a total of 90 days for public comment is unprecedented; we are committed to understanding the concerns of all Pennsylvanians on this important state regulation,” Abruzzo said previously.

Gov. Tom Corbett signed the 2012 Oil and Gas Act, which revised Pennsylvania’s oil and gas laws, to address the growing unconventional well development of natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica shale formations.

The law, known as Act 13, was meant to ensure the “safe and responsible development oil and gas resources, and it included many new environmental safeguards,” said a DEP spokesperson.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court struck down portions of Act 13 last month and ruled in favor of municipalities that had challenged the law’s limits on zoning of oil and gas operations.

For more information, visit the DEP’s Public Participation Center or review the regulations under the Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations at www.depweb.state.pa.us.