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Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control And Gas Drilling Operations

Posted: May 29, 2011

Erosion and sediment pollution control is an important factor in maintaining the quality of our waterways and plays a major role in natural gas development.
courtesy Curtis Swanger, Lyc. Co. Conservation

courtesy Curtis Swanger, Lyc. Co. Conservation

Minimizing soil erosion and the resulting sediment pollution to waterways from earthmoving is the goal of Pennsylvania’s Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control program.  Regulations within the Pennsylvania Code and the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law require the implementation and maintenance of erosion and sediment control best management practices (BMPs) to minimize the potential for “accelerated erosion and sedimentation.”  Accelerated erosion is the removal of the surface of the land through human activities and natural processes at a greater rate than would occur naturally.

     One of the major concerns that could be faced by landowners during any gas drilling operation is the potential land disturbance caused by all of the equipment, drilling pads, roadways, and pipelines.  The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is the main agency that has authority to approve gas drilling permits.  For oil and gas exploration, production, processing, treatment and transmission activities that disturb five or more acres, Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit must be obtained before commencing any earth disturbance activities.

     For erosion and sediment pollution control activity other than within the natural gas industry, many County Conservation Districts have delegated authority from the DEP to implement the Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control program and serve as the lead agency in conducting erosion control plan reviews, performing site inspections, and responding to complaints. Conservation Districts also continue to be responsible for reviewing plans, issuing permits, and earth disturbance inspections for certain oil and gas construction projects, such as transmission pipelines, separate compressor stations, and water withdrawal or pump stations.

Many gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale area disturb a large amount of earth for the drilling equipment, water trucks, water storage facilities, support apparatus, and gathering and transmission pipelines.  All of these activities that disturb more than five acres must obtain Erosion and Sediment Control General Permit.

     Part of the gas industry’s responsibility when obtaining a permit, is to submit an erosion and sediment pollution control plan to DEP.  That plan should show the location of the drilling pad, amount of disturbance, and the BMPs that will be used during the activity to reduce sedimentation.  If there will be any impacts to streams or other waterbodies, a DEP stream encroachment permit would be required, as well.

     Earth disturbance is defined as: a construction or other human activity which disturbs the surface of the land, including, but not limited to, clearing & grubbing, grading, excavations, embankments, land development, agricultural plowing or tilling, timber harvesting activities, road maintenance activities, mineral extraction, and the moving, depositing, stockpiling, or storing of soil, rock or other earth materials.

     Under the Erosion and Sediment Pollution Control program a written erosion and sediment pollution control plan is required for earthmoving under most conditions, including the following:

  • The proposed earth disturbance activity will take place in an Exceptional Value (EV) or High Quality (HQ) Special Protection Watershed or have the potential to discharge to these waters.
  • The proposed earth disturbance activity will result in a total disturbance of 5,000 square feet or more in a Cold Water Fisheries (CWF) or Warm Water Fisheries (WWF) Watershed.
  • The person proposing the earth disturbance activity is required to develop a plan under the direction of other PA DEP permits or approvals (for example, stream encroachment and wetland permits).
  • A written plan is required by municipal or county ordinances, permits, zoning, watershed plan, or similar requirements.

     It is noted in the state regulations that even those sites that disturb less than 5,000 square feet of land, erosion control best management practices must be installed, implemented, and maintained to minimize the potential for accelerated erosion and sedimentation.

     An erosion and sediment pollution control plan is a site specific plan identifying BMPs or ways in which accelerated erosion and sediment pollution will be minimized.  BMPs are: activities, facilities, and measures, or procedures used to minimize accelerated erosion and sedimentation and manage stormwater to protect, maintain, reclaim and restore the quality of waters and the existing and designated uses of waters of the Commonwealth during and after construction activities.  Such BMPs can include:  filter fabric fence, compost silt socks, sediment basins, erosion control blankets, filter strips, rock filters, etc.

     The erosion and sediment pollution control plan is developed by a person experienced in control methods and techniques and are developed prior to any earth disturbance.  At a minimum, the erosion control plan should contain the following information:  1) A location map identifying the site location and topographic features;  2) soils information;  3) characteristics of the earth disturbance activity including proposed land use;  4) amount of runoff including the upstream watershed area;  5) stream and  watershed locations along with the water quality classification;  6)  types and location of  BMPs that will be used to reduce erosion and sedimentation;  7) all construction schedules listing installation of controls and final stabilization;  8)  supporting calculations;  9)   plan drawings showing land features, water bodies, construction limits, and location of controls around construction area;  10)  maintenance plan including inspection of controls especially following precipitation events and schedule of repairs if needed;  11) recycling and disposal of construction waste procedures.       As a landowner allowing access to your property, you would want to review these documents from the gas company. 

     The erosion and sediment pollution control plan must be kept at the site throughout the duration of the earthmoving activities.  Inspectors from the PA Department of Environmental Protection may visit the site and request to see the plan.  For all other earthmoving activities, the Conservation District would be authorized to inspect such activities.

     If you see a sediment pollution problem and are unsure if it is coming directly from a gas drilling site, contact the County Conservation District.  All sediment pollution occurring on a gas drilling site will be reported to the regional DEP office.

Reprinted from the Clinton County Natural Gas Task Force (www.clintoncountypa.com )
 Mary Ann Bower (mabower@comcast.net) serves as district manager for the Clinton County Conservation District.