The following was first published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on December 3. The Department of Environmental Protection’s draft Chapter 78 rulemaking can be found here: Environmental Protection Standards and Waste Management. PIOGA, working through the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council and DEP’s Oil and Gas Technical Advisory Board, will be playing a major role in this initiative.

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is pushing ahead to strengthen regulations specific to the state’s conventional oil and gas industry. But first it is trying to win back the industry’s confidence.

Proposed updates to the rules have stagnated for more than a year while the industry sought to craft a new — and, in some respects, weaker — law tailored to its operations.

That attempt foundered last week when Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed Senate Bill 790, saying it “would contribute to a legacy of environmental degradation.”

While the bill aimed to address distinct challenges faced by the conventional oil and gas industry, whose operations are smaller and less expensive than Marcellus and Utica shale drillers’, it also would have rolled back protections for drinking water supplies and public resources, allowed more spills to go unreported and avoided erosion permitting requirements, Mr. Wolf wrote.

The governor’s veto was no surprise. Mr. Wolf, a Democrat, vowed to do so in January, when the bill was last amended. The bill passed by the Republican-led House in May and Senate in November contained the same provisions Mr. Wolf and DEP objected to at the start of the year.

Still, with the veto fresh in mind, leaders of conventional oil and gas companies, trade groups and their allies in the Legislature called DEP out as untrustworthy on Thursday during an industry-led advisory committee meeting held by video conference.

The primary items on the agenda were two sets of rules for waste management and above-ground activities at conventional oil and gas sites that DEP wants to update through its authority under Pennsylvania’s existing environmental laws.

“DEP has now chosen to flex their muscles and teach us all a lesson,” said David Clark, president of the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Oil Coalition. “Ramming the most punitive set of regulations on this industry to date, during the worst commodity collapse in 20 years, is appalling.”

Pennsylvania’s conventional industry has been hobbled this year by low oil and gas prices that are a side effect of the broad economic constriction caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through Nov. 27, only 48 conventional wells were drilled in the state this year, compared to 163 wells drilled during the same period in 2019, according to DEP records.

The proposed rules are still in the early stages of development. The governor’s regulatory agenda estimates a first draft could be brought to an environmental board by the middle of 2021.

The proposals contain requirements to reduce disruptions to protected public resources near well sites and ensure that damaged drinking water supplies are restored to a safe quality. They also include provisions that will significantly decrease the time it takes to get a permit for an underground waste disposal well by making federal and state reviews concurrent.

DEP’s Deputy Secretary for Oil and Gas Management Scott Perry said the agency is not in a hurry to complete the rules, but has an obligation to move them forward. Regulations for surface activities at conventional oil and gas well sites have been largely unchanged for two decades.

“I hope you will believe me when I say the DEP, we are not averse to your industry. We are not your enemies,” Mr. Perry said. “I think we have taken a number of steps to demonstrate our commitment to maintaining an open and honest dialogue.”

Industry members of the Pennsylvania Grade Crude Development Advisory Council were not reassured.

“We can sit here and talk about wanting to work together,” said Joe Thompson of Venango County-based oil and gas producer Devonian Resources. “We watch what you do now, not what you say.”

Industry members said it is DEP’s burden to prove that new regulations are necessary before they are asked to consider the agency’s proposed changes.

In his veto message, the governor wrote that the conventional industry is incurring environmental violations “at three to four times the rate” of the shale gas industry. But industry advocates argue that violations of existing rules don’t prove the need for new ones.

“It will be very hard for me to work on regs to harm our industry when there is no need for them and you can’t show a need,” said Mark Cline, whose family owns Bradford-based Cline Oil.

Pennsylvania environmental and economic development officials hoped to have another meeting to discuss the proposed rules between now and the next scheduled advisory council meeting in April, but the council had little appetite to speed up the review.

A motion to add a meeting in February was voted down.

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