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Upcoming Webinar Discusses New State Regulations on Gas Drilling in Marcellus Shale

Posted: November 14, 2010

This month's Marcellus Educational Webinar program hosts Dana Aunkst and Eugene Pine from DEP discussing new regulations for natural gas drilling.

As the natural-gas drilling boom into the deep Marcellus Shale formation has unfolded, state regulators have become increasingly aware of pollution risks to ground and surface water, and they have scrambled to develop regulations to protect precious natural resources.

Two experts with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will offer a look at the current situation in a free web-based seminar presented by Penn State Cooperative Extension at 1 p.m. on Nov. 18, titled "Pa. DEP Regulatory Update." Dana Aunkst, director of DEP's bureau of water standards and facilities regulation, and Eugene Pine, professional geologist manager with the agency, will present details about the current regulatory environment.

"A properly cased and cemented oil and gas well is critical to protecting fresh groundwater, public health, safety and the environment," explained Pine. "Many of the regulations governing well construction were promulgated in 1989 and remain largely unchanged.

"New well drilling and completion practices used to develop Marcellus shale wells, as well as recent impacts to drinking water supplies and the environment by both 'traditional' and Marcellus shale wells, prompted the department to reevaluate existing requirements."
 
With the continued development of the oil and gas industry, the potential exists for natural gas to migrate from the wellbore by either improperly constructed wells or older, deteriorated wells, according to Pine. "This migration could adversely affect underground sources of drinking water and pose a threat to public safety and the environment," he said. "Accordingly, DEP has revised Chapter 78, Subchapter D, for its well-drilling and operation regulations."
 
Pine's webinar presentation will explain how his department is making changes to the regulations, and will detail the proposed and final rulemaking process (timeframes, public-comment periods, etc.). "I will generally explain where we are in this process and then highlight the more significant revisions to the existing regulations," he said. "The regulatory revisions emphasize, and are intended to strengthen, proper well drilling, construction and operational practices."
 
Aunkst, on the other hand, will talk about new treatment standards for gas well wastewater. "In 2010, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board amended Chapter 95 of Title 25 of the Pennsylvania Code to include new treatment requirements for total dissolved solids," he said. "This final form rulemaking ensures the continued protection of this commonwealth's water resources from new and expanded sources of TDS."

Most importantly, Aunkst noted, the final-form rulemaking guarantees that state waters will not exceed a threshold of 500 milligrams per liter. "In doing so, the final-form rulemaking assures the continued use and protection of drinking water intakes on streams throughout this commonwealth," he said. "That provides the required protection of our aquatic life resources and maintains continued economic viability of the current water users."
 
Based on stakeholder comments received during an extensive public and stakeholder participation process, the final-form rulemaking adopts a combination of recommended approaches for addressing these larger loadings of TDS, Aunkst pointed out. This combination of approaches includes an industrial sector-based regulation along with a watershed-based analysis.

"The sector-based piece focuses on the natural-gas industry, mandating the treatment of wastewater," he said. "In addition, this treatment must be performed at a centralized wastewater treatment facility to the standards in the proposed rulemaking. This approach sets treatment requirements for natural-gas well wastewaters, based on available, proven treatment technologies for this industry and takes cost into consideration.

"These requirements will assure that any threat of water pollution from this rapidly growing industry is prevented in accordance with the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law."
 
Aunkst's webinar presentation will provide background on the need for the new regulation, a history of the development of the regulation and a summary of the current status of implementation of the new requirements.
Information about how to register for the webinar is available at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars. Online participants will have the opportunity to ask the speaker questions during the session.
The webinar "Pa. DEP Regulatory Update" is part of an ongoing series of workshops and events addressing issues related to the state's Marcellus Shale gas boom, which can be viewed at Penn State Cooperative Extension's natural-gas website, http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas.
Previous webinars, which covered topics such as water use and quality, zoning, gas-leasing considerations for landowners and implications for local communities, can be viewed online at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.
Additional one-hour webinars will be held at 1 p.m. on the following dates:
--Dec. 16: "Plumbing the Depths in Pa.: A Primer on Marcellus Shale Geology and Technology."  Presenter: Mike Arthur, Penn State Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research.
--Jan. 20, 2011: "Marcellus Shale Legislation: What Was Accomplished in the 2009-10 Session and What Issues Remain to be Addressed." Presenter: Ross Pifer, Dickinson School of Law, Penn State.
--Feb. 16, 2011: "Dealing with Gas Tax Issues: What You Need to Know." Presenter: Mike Jacobson, Penn State School of Forest Resources.
--Mar. 17, 2011: "Natural Gas Well Development and Emergency Response and Management." Presenter: Craig Konkle, Lycoming County Office of Emergency Management.
 
For more information, contact John Turack, extension educator in Westmoreland County, at 724-837-1402 or by e-mail at jdt15@psu.edu.

From Penn Live, Jeff Mulhollem