Environmental Protection is Everyone’s Business

Last week the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s Oil & Gas Technical Advisory Board (TAB) met to review revisions to a regulatory proposal for managing surface and aquatic impacts from natural gas development. PEC has been named to the TAB as a non-voting member, along with three others representing the public interest. This appointment has elicited a number of remarks questioning their (and PEC’s) inclusion.

The TAB is an advisory board with no formal authority respective to the Department. It does not have the ability to approve or reject any regulatory or policy proposal. Its purpose is solely to provide input to the Department, and that purpose is certainly not harmed by the presence of new or additional members.

John Walliser
John Walliser

While industry representatives on the TAB presented attentive questions and specific commentary to the Department during the meeting, it was during the open comment period that representatives of two industry trade associations opted to pursue a less constructive route. Their denunciations of the proposed regulations and the involvement of the public interest in the rulemaking process were unjustified.

Statements were made that the proposed regulations were designed “merely to increase costs,” and that the Department should accommodate every judgment from the industry. Meanwhile, like industry, PEC and a considerable number of other public interest organizations submitted detailed comments on the earlier version of the regulatory proposal, and certainly didn’t see every desired change adopted in the revisions discussed last week.

While there are still groups calling for a moratorium on unconventional gas development, PEC isn’t one of them. We support well-managed development in Pennsylvania, and are a proud member of the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. The revisions made by the Department to the regulatory proposal will help position Pennsylvania as a leader in safe development of this natural resource. This is as it should be, and it has been a very deliberate process.

Act 13 became law more than three years ago. During that time, through the TAB, public hearings, and prolonged occasion for comment, industry and the public have had ample time and opportunity to convey their perspective and concerns. Other gas producing states have passed laws and implemented regulations in that space of time. At current rate, Pennsylvania’s regulations won’t be finalized until mid-2016. That’s more than four years.

Many of the recent proposed changes to the regulations are in response to incidents and ongoing issues that have occurred since passage of Act 13. While the changes are significant, they too will be published for further public comment and review, and will be discussed in multiple TAB meetings, before the Environmental Quality Board, and in other forums. Despite the claims of some, it is clear that there is no blind rush behind the regulations – even though they are truly needed now.

PEC is honored to be part of the public process developing protections while recognizing the economic realities of energy production. We look forward to continuing in that role and as a member of the TAB.