Chapter 78 Comments Submitted – Monumental Effort by Industry Concluded – What’s Next?
The December 14, 2013 publication in the Pennsylvania Bulletin of the Chapter 78 Proposed Rulemaking set forth new environmental performance standards for activities associated with the development and operation of oil and gas well sites. The response by the industry was unprecedented in scope, perhaps the most significant and comprehensive effort ever undertaken by the oil and gas industry to review and respond to a proposed rulemaking. Virtually every industry trade group weighed in by the March 14, 2014 close of the comment period – among those submitting comments were the Marcellus Shale Coalition (MSC) for the unconventional producers, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association (PIOGA) for the conventional and unconventional producers and the Associated Petroleum Industries of PA for the large integrated producers. Additionally the Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board submitted its own comments to the Environmental Quality Board (EQB).
The latest word out of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is that the EQB received nearly 23,000 comment documents. While about half were form letters, the DEP is still left with a huge challenge to evaluate these comments and respond via its required “Comment and Response” document.
One example of the comments that were submitted is the document developed by PIOGA. A task force of over 20 individuals from various member companies looked at every aspect of the proposed rule package. Virtually no stone was left unturned or unaddressed in their review. The final product that was submitted consumed 114 pages and not only stated PIOGA’s concerns with various proposed subsections but offered suggested language in each case to revise the proposed rules to address the concerns.
In a like manner the MSC mounted a huge effort of staff and membership in assembling its comments. The MSC document is 133 pages and, similar to PIOGA’s, provides commentary and suggested rule language to address the concerns with the proposed rule.
These documents, coupled with all the others that were submitted, add a great deal of uncertainty to the rulemaking timeline going forward. Couple that with the associated PA Supreme Court decision on Act 13; Act 13 being the basis for portions of these Chapter 78 proposed rules, and the final makeup of these rules will likely necessitate another round of revisions and even another public comment period.