An Extravaganza: Revised DEP Oil & Gas Regulations Public Participation Opportunities!

I’ve written several times over the last months about the anticipated Chapter 78 Revisions and the associated public comment period.  This week, the news was announced!   I’m going to take you through the upcoming process regarding WHAT YOU CAN DO and HOW YOU CAN DO IT.  Later this week, we will be publishing an ACTION ALERT that will enable you to effectively and fully participate in whatever manner you may choose.

So, first what is this and why is it important?  You may have seen the DEP press release:  Environmental Quality Board Opens Public Comment Period on Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations, Will Hold Public Hearings.  These proposed regulations have been a few years in the making.  They are the codification of DEP Policies that have been developed on an as needed basis to address issues created by the necessity  to have adequate measures regarding specific changes in Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry operation’s as the result of the advent of shale gas E&P.  They are the codification of the environmental protection provisions created in the adoption of Act 13 of 2012.  Yes, Act 13 has more to offer than just the impact fee or the pending matters before the state supreme court.  Act 13 contains many provisions that are beneficial to addressing our region’s public health and safety and environmental concerns. Additional provisions address other necessary environmental protection issues.

This public comment period is important because it is the first major overhaul to the oil and gas regulations in about 30 years.  Some of you may remember and may have participated in a previous important rulemaking that resulted in better water protections and cementing and casing standards that became effective February 5, 2011.  This new rulemaking [74 pages in length] is much more comprehensive primarily addressing surface issues.  The Februrary 5, 2011 rulemaking improved over the proposal because of public comments.  That rulemaking was historical in that DEP had never received so many comments during a public comment period before.  We have this opportunity again.  We need to make the most of it.  Like any rulemaking, industry and environmental groups are not happy with this end product.  They will submit comments that are polar opposites – no we don’t need this regulation vs. this regulation must eliminate this method or it is not restrictive enough. As usual, the folks that live in the gas fields are omitted from this conversation.  Thank goodness, DEP has recognized this fact and invited C.O.G.E.N.T. to the table to discuss some of these issues earlier this year.  We had also taken the time to be present at the meetings earlier this year and make our views known.  There will be considerable comments done by at least industry and environmental groups and some of those may not reflect our needs as the public who actually lives within the gas fields.  We need to reach that delicate balance where all can thrive as not only has the industry rippled into our regional economy, but also it is our public health and safety and environment at risk when regulations are inadequate.  Thus, we need folks, regular folks like yourself in our region to participate in this process.

How may you choose to participate?  A whole lotta ways!  There is an opportunity to become more familiar with the rulemaking through webinars that DEP is hosting starting this week.   DEP will be holding two webinars on Thursday, Dec. 19, from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m., and Friday, Jan. 3, from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m., to present information and answer questions on the proposed regulation.  DEP usually posts webinars online afterwards so if you miss the live version, you may be able to catch it at your convenience later.  DEP is conducting hearings where folks can make formal oral statements of their concerns/support for these regulation revisons.   Two such hearings will convene at locations convenient to folks in our Northern Tier Region, as noted below.

The public hearings will be held at 6 p.m. at these locations and dates convenient to our region.

Wyoming County

Monday, Jan. 27, 2014, Tunkhannock High School Auditorium, 135 Tiger Drive, Tunkhannock, PA 18657

Lycoming County

Monday, Jan. 13, 2014, Pennsylvania College of Technology’s Klump Academic Center, One College Avenue, Williamsport, PA 17701

Finally, folks will be able to submit written comments until February 12, 2014.

 

So, how is C.O.G.E.N.T. planning to provide you with resources to effectively and fully participate?  True, some folks may venture onto a website and at the motion of a finger click be able to issue a public comment.  While this may be an effective tool for folks beyond the shale who may not be directly affected by this rulemaking, it is not the best method if you live within the gas fields and want to be effective and fully participate in the process afforded to us.  We at C.O.G.E.N.T. have seen first hand how personally, individually crafted comments make a real difference.  That is precisely why we’ve advocated personally crafted comments for years now.  And, just like in the past, we do plan to issue an ACTION ALERT that will guide you through the process to submit an effective comment.   We’ve had our ACTION ALERT drafted for months now.  We are awaiting the conclusion of the December 19th webinar broadcast to further tweak our ACTION ALERT and then it will be published on the website under the ACTION ALERTS tab.  We are very excited about this comprehensive rulemaking and are doing something a little different to guide folks to creating an effective comment that provide an opportunity to address some of your specific concerns.

Please note, the public hearings will limit the time-frame you have to speak.  This is in order to provide as many folks as possible an opportunity to participate in the process.  We encourage those who are willing to speak in a public forum to do so. We encourage others to attend in support of the process and to gain further insights as to those issues folks in our region are concerned about.  We encourage folks to stick to the topics addressed in the rulemaking rather than get sidetracked on a tangent of issues not related to environmental protection or this rulemaking package.  We encourage those who are speaking to summarize their comment and submit the longer written version, and those who attend, but not testify to submit their written comment by February 12, 2014.

We’ll have all the nitty gritty details on how to write and submit your comment on the ACTION ALERT.  In the meantime, anyone who is interested in testifying — making a formal oral statement at the hearing in Tunkhannock or Williamsport, please phone the EQB at 717-787-4526 to reserve time to testify.  When you check back for the ACTION ALERT we’ll have exact instructions on how to prepare for the hearing as well.

Please check our website after December 22nd for the ACTION ALERT. We are aiming to publish prior to the hearings so that you have a guide to follow in creating your effective comment.

We will also be posting a notice on our Google+ page.  Please check our page out at Google+  CONNNECTION FOR OIL GAS & ENVIRONMENT IN THE NORTHERN TIER.

If you’ve never participated in this process before, or think that your comment won’t make a difference, please participate and please know that it does.  It was public comments submitted during a 2012 public participation period that Wyoming County residents were successful in having a temporary VOC monitor placed in Springville Township, Susquehanna County.  That monitor will be relocated in Wyoming County during 2014.

Emily Krafjack, President