Act 13: What’s Next

The continuing work of adapting Pennsylvania laws and regulations took a significant step forward in February 2012 with the signing of Act 13. But, for as difficult as it was to reach this milestone and though the legislation falls short of our expectations in certain aspects, it is only a step on the path to comprehensive energy development and regulation.

Unconventional shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania is still at the start of what appears to be a century of development and production. And we are also at the beginning of understanding and adapting to a new era of drilling and production technologies that have redefined gas production in Pennsylvania and continue to evolve as new processes emerge and are utilized.

To manage with the environmental challenges posed by this growing industry, the state has updated the regulations governing cementing and casing, production reporting, and total dissolved solids in wastewater. It has called for voluntary changes in wastewater handling, increased permitting fees, changed the process for erosion and sedimentation permits, and enacted Act 13. The Pennsylvania Environmental Council (PEC) will continue to seek more stringent regulation and enforcement, and continuously work to make Pennsylvania the model for deep shale drilling and development nationwide.

While we look forward to revisiting these issues, PEC is also focused on those steps that have been left undone.  One of our highest priorities is to ensure that the environmental protection standards set forth in Act 13 are expeditiously enacted into regulation by DEP.  In fact, we believe that there are a number of standards in the Act that DEP and the industry can implement immediately through a repeat of the DEP Secretary’s call for voluntary action on the part of the shale gas industry.

Further, we encourage DEP and the Governor’s office to promptly implement the recommendations from the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission that do not to need legislative action, including both environmental protections and those related to public health. This is also an immediate imperative as there are a number of critical pieces that remain outstanding from that report.

PEC’s implementation priorities for 2012 includes:

Act 13 (Agency Rulemaking or Policy Revisions)Criteria for Water

  • Management Plans consistent with new standards included in Section 3211.
  • Criteria for new well site containment standards, including siting restrictions in floodplains [Sections 3218.2 and 3215].
  • Criteria for wastewater tracking and reporting requirements pursuant to Section 3218.3.
  • Criteria for tacking and reporting of air contaminant emissions pursuant to Section 3227.
  • Procedures for disclosure of chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process pursuant to Sections 3222 and 3222.1.

Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Report Recommendations

  • Legislation establishing construction standards for private water wells. [9.2.17]
  • Promote the use of non-freshwater sources for hydraulic fracturing. [9.2.22]
  • Openly identify and establish adaptive Best Management Practices for the industry that can be utilized in addition to regulatory measures. [9.2.23]
  • Maintain public benchmarking of Pennsylvania’s regulatory management programs. [9.2.25]
  • Enhance planning efforts and resources by proactively identifying areas of high ecological value; establish additional criteria or restrictions for development in or near these areas. [9.2.26]
  • Improve planning and permit review through adoption of enhanced site assessment criteria. [9.2.29]
  • Advance public health evaluation and reporting efforts. [9.2.37 to 9.2.43]

Looking ahead, PEC remains confident that the best way to manage the impacts of the burgeoning shale gas industry is through aggressive adaptive management. To achieve this, policymakers, regulators, industry, communities, and advocacy groups must all work toward development, understanding, and enforcement of strong and evolving standards that are protective of human health and the environment.

For our part, PEC pledges to continue on this path and will continue to fight for the standards that we believe are necessary to allow the industry to develop but within strict parameters that protect Pennsylvania’s common good.

A full comparison of Act 13 is available for download: