Harrisburg, PA – Environmental and citizen groups representing hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians welcomed today’s decision by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC) to move revised oil and gas regulations toward final passage and implementation.
The decision came after nearly four years of public hearings and over 30,000 comments on the regulations by residents, organizations, legislators, and industry, as well as extensive vetting and approval by other state commissions. In just the last several days, concerned Pennsylvanians sent thousands more comments to IRRC encouraging a yes vote on the regulations.
In a 3-2 vote, IRRC enabled the revisions to both Chapter 78 of the Oil and Gas Act for conventional operators and the new Chapter 78a for unconventional operators to move forward. The Commissioners who voted in favor recognized that the regulations are in the public interest because they will protect health and safety.
The vote came despite efforts by anti-environmental legislators to sidestep established state government processes. A week ago, both the House and Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committees voted to reject new regulations for conventional drillers and sent letters to IRRC asking the Commission to do the same.
“Unlike many of our legislators, IRRC refused to accept the unfounded argument that the conventional regulations aren't needed or weren’t legally developed,” said Steve Hvozdovich, Campaigns Director, Clean Water Action. “Their decision reflected the desire of Pennsylvanians and the understanding that our Commonwealth needs strong protections from natural gas drilling operations.”
“Today, IRRC members upheld the public’s need for environmental and health protections over industry’s wish to not be regulated at all,” said Nadia Steinzor, Eastern Program Coordinator, Earthworks. “There’s now the possibility that Pennsylvania will finally establish regulations to help reduce the high environmental and health costs of continued drilling.”
“In addition to years of drilling without comprehensive oversight, industry has had many opportunities to weigh in on the revised regulations,” said Thomas Au, conservation chair for Pennsylvania Sierra Club. “Operators and legislators should stop fighting common sense regulation of the industry and start conducting their activities responsibly.”
“Thanks to IRRC, we’re a big step closer to seeing adoption of the proposed revisions, which will help shift the health and economic burden of dealing with water and air pollution away from residents and onto the companies that cause them,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
“We’re heartened that IRRC didn’t give into legislators’ continued attempts to derail the adoption of the Chapter 78 & 78a regulations, which were starting to look like temper tantrums thrown by a frustrated toddler used to getting his own way,” said Krissy Kasserman, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper.
“Pennsylvania is poised to be a national leader in adopting strong oil and gas regulations, followed by controls on methane leaks and health-harming emissions,” said Matt Walker, Community Outreach Director, Clean Air Council. “Thanks to IRRC, this tremendous opportunity to combat oil and gas pollution remains.”
“It’s such a relief that members of the IRRC didn’t kowtow to an 11th hour push by politicians to derail this process,” said David Masur, Executive Director for PennEnvironment. “After years of review and input from the public, the time to finalize these commonsense protections from drilling is now.”
The groups have consistently emphasized that while they believe that drilling in Pennsylvania will continue to pose risks to people and the environment, the revised oil and gas regulations must be implemented because they offer better protections than those currently in place. Among others, these include some prohibitions on pits and open-top structures for the storage of toxic and potentially radioactive waste; more review of permits to drill near school property and playgrounds; investigation of orphaned, abandoned, inactive, and plugged wells before drilling; and immediate notification of spills, releases, and other incidents.
Following the IRRC vote, DEP will now send Chapter 78 and 78a to the state Attorney General for review, the last step before they can be formally adopted. The groups will work to prevent passage by the House and Senate of legislation that would stall this process, which is up for consideration when the session resumes in May.