BLOG: New Oil and Gas Drilling Regulations and a Government That Works

By: Samuel Robinson, Deputy Secretary of Policy and Planning

June 16, 2016

One of the key tenets of the Wolf Administration is that residents of the commonwealth deserve a government that works. When it came to the Department of Environmental Protection’s efforts to strengthen regulations on oil and gas exploration, a government that works was a government that listened.

That’s why, during the course of writing and revising the Department’s Oil and Gas Surface Regulations, DEP conducted an unprecedented amount of engagement with the public, spanning multiple administrations.

The Department’s new Chapter 78a regulations, which will update and strengthen rules governing the extraction of oil and gas from rock formations a mile or more below the surface of Pennsylvania, initially began under the Rendell Administration and have been in the process of being revised since 2011, and Act 13 of 2012, signed into law by Governor Corbett, added additional regulatory updates that have been incorporated.

Over the last five years, DEP has engaged in one of the largest public participation efforts in the agency’s history. In 2013 and 2014, DEP held a 90-day public comment period on the first draft of the regulations. In addition, nine public hearings were held across the Commonwealth to ensure that Pennsylvanians would have the opportunity to make their voices heard on the regulations. Natural gas exploration is an important part of Pennsylvania’s economy, but also brings with it the potential for significant impacts to air, land, water and public health. It is vital that the people of Commonwealth are engaged on these issues.

After the 2014 public participation – which drew more than 23,000 comments – the Wolf Administration went through an additional process in order to hear even more public comment. This step was voluntarily undertaken by DEP to solicit additional feedback from changes made after the initial comment period. Three more public hearings were held, and over a 45-day comment period, an additional 4,900 comments were received. DEP reviewed, evaluated and responded to each of the nearly 30,000 comments received throughout the development of this regulation.

This process has now established new regulations for unconventional drilling, most commonly referred to as fracking, that set forth new standards to protect public resources, including water, land and places like parks and schools. The new regulations also improve landowners ability to express their concerns and modernize the regulatory program to recognize advances in technology.

Public involvement in the policymaking process is one of the most important parts of good governance. DEP has already built on the positive feedback we’ve received in the course of development of this regulation and has applied lessons learned in other policy areas. DEP recently launched a new online comment system – eComment – to make it easier for Pennsylvanians to make their voices heard. And the Office of Environmental Justice, newly reconstituted by Governor Wolf, will be exploring new ways to engage communities that have been traditionally marginalized in the policy process.

DEP continues to work with and for the people of Pennsylvania to protect the land, air, and waters of the Commonwealth. The most important voice that the Wolf Administration can hear when it comes to protecting the environment is yours.


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