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EPA Looks to Public for Input on the Impact of Hydraulic Fracturing on Drinking Water

The Environmental Protection Agency is holding a public teleconference, run by the Science Advisory Board’s Hydraulic Fracturing Research Advisory Panel, to discuss the first draft of the peer review report of the Hydraulic Fracturing Drinking Water Assessment.

The “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources” investigates the potential impacts on human health and the environment hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality of drinking water at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. The draft estimates 25,000-30,000 new wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014. Most of these wells were drilled in Texas; Pennsylvania ranked third in number of wells drilled during the period covered.

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the report estimated 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well. In addition, approximately 6,800 drinking water sources for public water systems were within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

Find out more in about the assessment in a previous RKR Hess blog post.

The EPA will take into account the comments from the advisory board in conjunction with comments from the public in its evaluation of the peer review report.

The public teleconference will take place on Monday, Feb. 1 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time. To participate, visit the Science Advisory Board website.


Application Submitted for PennEast Pipeline to Proceed With Construction

An application to construct a 118-mile pipeline that will carry natural gas between Pennsylvania and New Jersey was submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in September by PennEast Pipeline Company, LLC (FERC Docket #CP15-558) The proposed pipeline would transport gas from Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, to other pipelines near Trenton, New Jersey.

An interactive map of the proposed route is available online from PennEast Pipeline. Because the pipeline, which will transport Marcellus Shale gas, will serve two states, the federal government maintains regulatory authority over its construction. The pipeline will be 36 inches in diameter and run underground. According to a PennEast Pipeline Company news release, the pipeline is expected to deliver approximately 1 billion cubic feet of natural gas per day. If approved, construction could begin in 2017.

The PennEast Pipeline Company, headquartered in Wyomissing, Pennsylvania, is comprised of several pipeline and energy companies, including PSEG Power LLC, SJI Midstream, Spectra Energy Partners, AGL Resources, NJR Pipeline Company, and UGI Energy Services. UGI serves as the project manager for the effort and would be the operator of the pipeline once it is completed. The project is publicly supported by organizations such as the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce, the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, and the Pennsylvania Manufacturers Association.

A study by Econsult Solutions and Drexel University concluded that construction of the pipeline would result in approximately $890 million in direct expenditures and approximately $730 million in indirect and induced economic impacts (a total of approximately $1.62 billion in overall economic impact). According to that study, construction of the pipeline is expected to support more than 12,000 jobs. The same study projected annual recurring economic impacts of approximately $23 million, including support for approximately 98 jobs.

Another study, by Concentric Energy Advisors, examined the theoretical effect of the proposed pipeline if it had been in service during the winter of 2013/2014. This period was selected because the cost of natural gas reached record pricing and was extremely volatile. The study concluded that if an additional 1 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas had been available at the time, ratepayers in eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey could have saved $893 million.

Opposition to the pipeline alleges that its construction will not reduce the cost of energy because it is believed the natural gas will be exported instead of used domestically and the plan to cut through 4,000 acres of preserved open space and farmland is being questioned. According to NPR’s StateImpact, in some cases local landowners may be asked to lease their property to house the pipeline underground. In many cases, these landowners have not yet granted access to surveyors. According to the New Jersey Sierra Club, the project crosses 88 waterways, 44 wetlands, 33 farms, and the Delaware River. The Concerned Citizens Against the Pipeline documents more than 25 municipalities, townships, or counties where resolutions in opposition to the pipeline have been introduced.

Approximately 1,440 people or organizations have registered as interveners with the FERC. Registration provides the opportunity to present evidence for or against the pipeline and provides standing to appeal the FERC’s decision in federal court. Public comments to date about the PennEast pipeline are made available online by the FERC. An additional opportunity for public comment will occur once a draft Environmental Impact Statement is completed.

EPA Asks Public to Comment on “Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources”

The Environmental Protection Agency is looking for public comment and peer review on the recently released Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resources (Executive Summary, Full Report, Appendices). As a part of the peer review process, the draft report must be presented to and reviewed by a Research Advisory Panel.

Public meetings and teleconferences will be held by the Science Advisory Board (SAB) with the intention of informing the panel and the public about the EPA findings, reviewing compliance with the SAB’s charge for this research, and collecting questions through a panel discussion. A public review of the agency draft report will be conducted at a face-to-face meeting in October.

The “Draft Assessment of the Potential Impacts of Hydraulic Fracturing for Oil and Gas on Drinking Water Resource” investigates the potential impacts on human health and the environment hydraulic fracturing may have on the quality of drinking water at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle. The draft estimates 25,000-30,000 new wells were drilled annually between 2011 and 2014. Most of these wells were drilled in Texas; Pennsylvania ranked third in number of wells drilled during the period covered.

Between the years 2000 and 2013, the report estimated 9.4 million people lived within one mile of a hydraulically fractured well. In addition, approximately 6,800 drinking water sources for public water systems were within one mile of at least one hydraulically fractured well between 2000 and 2013.

The report evaluated both above-ground and below-ground mechanisms whereby hydraulic fracturing activities could potentially impact drinking water resources. No evidence of widespread, systemic impacts on drinking water resources was identified in the assessment, although several specific instances where one or more of these mechanisms led to drinking water resource impacts were identified. The relatively small number of cases of identified impacts, when compared to the large number of hydraulically fractured wells, could reflect the rarity of effects on drinking water. However, the study found that there is frequently insufficient data on the quality of drinking water resources both pre- and post-hydraulic fracturing to accurately determine the true frequency of impacts.

The public teleconferences will be held from 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. (Eastern Time) on the following dates:

The public face-to-face meeting will be at the Washington Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C. on:

A teleconference line will be made available for those who cannot attend the advisory panel in person.

Comments on the draft advisory assessment are due Aug. 28, 2015 using the e-Government Regulations website. More information, including relevant contacts, can be found by visiting the Federal Register.


Pennsylvania’s Treated Mine Water Act and its Potential Impact

A new Pennsylvania Senate bill introduced in June would allow Marcellus Shale developers to use treated coal mine water in oil and gas development.

The Treated Mine Water Act, approved by the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, looks to create more opportunities for the oil and gas industry to find reliable sources of water to drill, complete, and hydraulically fracture conventional and unconventional oil and gas wells while conserving freshwater supplies. To do this, the bill seeks to limit liabilities for both the coal mine operator and the drilling operator in oil and gas development.

Rainwater and groundwater can collect in the underground voids created by coal mines. While there, the water can pick up minerals from the surrounding rocks. In Pennsylvania, these minerals frequently make the water acidic. In active mining operations, this water is pumped to the surface, treated, and discharged in accordance with permit standards established by state and federal governments.

However, when the coal mine is abandoned, the water continues to collect but is no longer pumped or treated. The water can fill the mine and overflow into streams, carrying the minerals picked up while underground. If untreated, this water can kill invertebrates and fish in the streams and reduce the pH of the stream.

Some environmental groups have begun setting up treatment systems to address acid mine drainage from abandoned mines. Building and maintaining a treatment system can cost between $100,000 and $10 million, depending on the volume of water to be treated and the complexity of the system. Based on data from Datashed.org, approximately 350 treatment systems have been set up in Pennsylvania.

As defined in the new bill, treated mine water is water from an active or closed coal mine that is treated by a mine operator under a permit issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). The water must meet federal standards for discharge to the surface waters of the United States. A prior bill would have limited the liability for drilling operators who used untreated mine water.

Oil and gas industry lawyers were concerned that the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law would make companies liable for cleaning the mine water in perpetuity even though the drilling operator was not the one who originally operated the mine, according to NPR’s State Impact.

Also according to NPR’s State Impact, an average natural gas well uses 4.4 million gallons of water. Supporters of the bill argue that using treated mine water for oil and gas development would aid in the cleanup of polluted mine water by providing funding for treatment systems. Opponents argue that removing the water could damage the natural flow of streams by reducing the volume of water available and cause damage to the environment through spills during transportation or discharge into clean drinking water aquifers from leaks in the well casings.

The proposed Treated Mine Water Act would not necessarily override regulations created in the Clean Streams Law, and oil and gas developers would still be liable in the event of a spill or leak. The Pennsylvania DEP published a white paper outlining options for the use of mine-influenced water in fracking.

Historically, anthracite coal was mined in an area of about 485 square miles, spanning nine counties in Northeastern Pennsylvania, according to the Mining History Association. Based on data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), there are approximately 45 abandoned anthracite mines in this region. In total, there are approximately 145 abandoned coal mines statewide.

Currently, unconventional drilling is not authorized in the Delaware River Basin. The Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) has yet to vote on natural gas drilling and fracking regulations originally proposed in 2010 and revised in 2011. So, any mine water from these mines to be used in fracking would need to be transported outside of the Basin. That transfer would also require DRBC approval.





Public Comment on Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Rulemaking Ends May 19

The public comment period in the final rulemaking of the “Environmental Protection Performance Standards of Oil and Gas Well Sites” ends on May 19, after four years of revisions to and multiple rounds of comment on the regulations proposed by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The revisions to Chapter 78 of the Pennsylvania Code, governing the protection of natural resources, include public resource protection, revisions to information collected in the permit application process and revisions to waste storage/management regulations. In addition, the revisions split Chapter 78 into two sections, one for conventional oil and gas development and one for unconventional development (i.e., fracking).

The DEP said it is specifically looking for comments regarding noise mitigation, centralized tank storage, and “other critical communities,” which are defined as animal and plant species not currently on the endangered list.


Impacts to public resources will be considered in the application process. These resources include, but are not limited to, publicly owned parks and game lands, public drinking water wellhead protection areas, and playgrounds and schools, among other areas.

Additional review of the application may come from the Fish and Boat Commission, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Game Commission, and the Pennsylvania Historic and Museum Commission. These agencies will have 30 days (instead of 15 days) to review permits.

Abandoned and orphaned wells in the vicinity of the proposed development must be reported in the permit application process, with a monitoring plan in place for drilling operations.

The permit renewal term will be extended from one year to two years. Drilling must be completed within 16 months of permit issue.

Proposed regulations require operators to restore drinking water impacted by drilling to either the standards of the Safe Drinking Water Act or pre-drill conditions, whichever is of a higher quality. In addition, all remediation must be conducted in accordance with the Land Recycling and Environmental Remediation Standards Act.

Resource Protection

Requires operators of unconventional well sites to report to the DEP the amount and type of waste produced, and the method of disposal or reuse on a monthly basis.

Some additional permits may be required, including for operators using centralized wastewater storage impoundments.

The proposed regulations prohibit the use of pits for temporary storage of production fluids or wastes on unconventional well sites.

Storage and Disposal

In the event of a spill or release, the regulations require notification to owners and sampling of water supplies with the potential to be impacted.

Additionally, health standards for noise control from unconventional operations will be put into place.

A previously proposed requirement to remove older underground tanks was removed from the draft final rulemaking.

The draft makes a centralized tank storage site an option for natural gas drilling, with the proper permit approval and with geographical restrictions.

The proposed regulations require DEP approval of the disposal of waste and cuttings from below the casing seat at unconventional well sites.

For more details about the proposed regulations, visit Title 25 at pabulletin.com.

Written or electronic comments must be received by May 19, with a subject heading Oil and Gas Rulemaking and a return name and address. Faxes and voicemail will not be accepted.

Electronic comments can be submitted through the DEP online comment system at http://www.ahs.dep.pa.gov/RegComments or by email to RegComments@pa.gov.

Written comments can be sent to the Department of Environmental Protection Policy Office, 400 Market Street, P.O. Box 2063, Harrisburg, PA 17105.

Update on PA DEP Financial Requirements for Private Dams

In a recent Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) informational meeting sponsored by Rep. Rosemary Brown (R-Monroe/Pike), DEP representatives discussed the annual permit fee imposed on dam owners to cover a portion of the DEP costs to administer the Dam Safety program and the fiscal responsibility regulations. The meeting was primarily for private dam owners, as the financial responsibility requirement is handled differently for publicly owned dams.

The legislation requires private owners of high hazard dams to post a financial guarantee adequate to breach the dam if the owner does not comply with DEP safety requirements by January 2016. Of the 3, 378 dams in Pennsylvania, 778 have been deemed high hazard. Those high hazard dams that are publicly owned do not have to prove fiscal responsibility and are not subject to annual fees.

The required fiscal guarantee poses a hardship for many private individuals and associations—such as hunting clubs, homeowners associations, and non-profit organizations—who are unable to obtain a surety bond. The alternative for private dam owners to meet this fiscal requirement is to provide a certificate of deposit (CD) that DEP can draw from if the dam must be breached. For some associations, the financial guarantee reaches into the $100,000’s, a sum that will be very difficult for many private owners to raise and have sit in a CD restricted for this purpose.

The level of funding needed to meet fiscal responsibility and dam permitting requirements, depends on the hazard classification of the dam. The dam hazard classification is based on the probable effects of a failure. Therefore, downstream developments beyond the control of the dam owner can cause the hazard classification of the dam to change. Dam owners may retain the services of an engineering firm to conduct annual inspections, evaluate the hazard level of the dam, and propose cost-effective improvements to maintain safe operation of the dam.

In late 2014, representatives from PA DEP and state legislators are discussing modifications to the existing legislation to establish an insurance program for private dam owners to cover the cost if a dam breach is required. Until further legislation is completed, however, the current dam permitting process, inspections, and fiscal responsibility will require potentially significant action from private dam owners throughout the state.

Additional Resources:

PA DEP dam safety information: http://www.portal.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/community/dam_safety/10501

PA DEP “Dams and Dam Safety: The Invisible Infrastructure” presentation: http://www.education.state.pa.us/portal/server.pt/document/1203131/panel_on_dam_emergenies_-_pa_dep_presentation_pdf

RKR Hess Wins Lehigh Valley Planning Commission Award

On October 23, the Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) held its inaugural “Celebration of Excellence in Planning” awards ceremony at Iacocca Hall in Bethlehem, Pa.  Read more

RKR Hess Presents Case Study at Flood Protection Program’s 14th Annual Workshop

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PA Gubernatorial Candidates’ Stances on Shale Gas Drilling and Regulations

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EPA Announces Initial Steps Toward Regulating Disclosure of Chemicals Used in Hydraulic Fracturing

On May 9, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPR) soliciting comment from stakeholders and the general public regarding obtaining information on chemical substances and mixtures used in hydraulic fracturing for oil and gas exploration and development.  Read more