UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — As the natural-gas drilling boom into the deep Marcellus Shale formation has unfolded, state regulators have become increasingly aware of pollution risks to ground and surface water, and they have scrambled to develop regulations to protect valuable natural resources.
Two experts with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection will offer details about the current regulatory environment in a free, one-hour, Web-based seminar Nov. 18 at 1 p.m.
Presented by Penn State Cooperative Extension, the webinar will feature Dana Aunkst, director of DEP’s bureau of water standards and facilities regulation, and Eugene Pine, professional geologist manager with the agency. Online participants will have the opportunity to ask the speakers questions during the session.
“In 2010, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board amended the Pennsylvania Code to include new treatment requirements for total dissolved solids,” Aunkst said. “This final form rulemaking ensures the continued protection of the commonwealth’s water resources from new and expanded sources of total dissolved solids.”
Most importantly, Aunkst noted, the final rulemaking guarantees that state waters will not exceed a threshold of 500 milligrams per liter.
“In doing so, the final rulemaking assures the continued use and protection of drinking water intakes on streams throughout the commonwealth,” he said. “That provides the required protection of aquatic life and maintains continued economic viability of the current water users.”
The final rulemaking adopts a combination of recommended approaches for addressing these larger loads of total dissolved solids, Aunkst pointed out. This combination of approaches includes an industrial-sector-based regulation along with a watershed-based analysis.
“The sector-based piece focuses on the natural-gas industry, mandating the treatment of gas-well wastewater,” he said. “This approach is based on available, proven treatment technologies for this industry and takes cost into consideration. In addition, this treatment must be performed at a centralized wastewater treatment facility to the standards in the proposed rulemaking.
“These requirements will assure that any threat of water pollution from this rapidly growing industry is prevented in accordance with the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law.”
Aunkst’s presentation will provide background on the need for the new regulation, a history of the development of the regulation and an update on the implementation of the new requirements.
In addition, Pine’s presentation will explain how his department is making changes to the regulations and will detail the proposed and final rulemaking process, including timeframes, public-comment periods and so forth.
“I will generally explain where we are in this process and then highlight the more significant revisions to the existing regulations,” he said. “The regulatory revisions emphasize, and are intended to strengthen, proper well-drilling, construction and operational practices.”
A properly cased and cemented oil or gas well is critical to protecting groundwater, public health, safety and the environment, explained Pine. Many of the regulations governing well construction were promulgated in 1989 and remain largely unchanged.
“New well-drilling and completion practices used to develop Marcellus Shale wells, as well as recent impacts to drinking water supplies and the environment by both ‘traditional’ and Marcellus Shale wells, prompted the department to re-evaluate existing requirements,” he said.
With the continued development of the oil and gas industry, the potential exists for natural gas to migrate from the wellbore by either improperly constructed wells or older, deteriorated wells, Pine noted.
“This migration could adversely affect underground sources of drinking water and pose a threat to public safety and the environment,” he said. “Accordingly, DEP has revised its well-drilling and operation regulations.”
The webinar, Pa. DEP Regulatory Update, is part of an ongoing series of workshops and events addressing issues related to the state’s Marcellus Shale gas boom. Information about how to register for the webinar is available at http://extension.psu.edu/naturalgas/webinars.