DEP nixes noise regulations in final oil and gas rules

State regulators decided to nix plans to regulate noise from oil and gas sites in long-awaited drilling regulations announced today by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

DEP officials called the decision “significant” and said, because of the “complex nature” of noise mitigation, they’ve decided to tackle rules for it in a separate process. For years, people living around shale sites have complained about noise created from different parts of the drilling and fracking processes.

DEP regulators began revamping the oil and gas rules in 2011 to improve water quality protections and public safety, and to address landowner concerns, according to a department news release.

“These rules are the culmination of one of the largest public participation efforts the department has ever seen, with nearly 30,000 comments and 12 public hearings during two public comment periods,” DEP Secretary John Quigley said in a statement.

The rules cover a lot of ground, including making drillers that pollute drinking-water supplies restore them to a higher standard and requiring companies to close or upgrade large centralized wastewater impoundments (often referred to as frack ponds) that have been blamed for soil and water contamination many times in recent years.

“These amendments reflect a balance between meeting the needs of the industry and the needs of public health and the environment; all while enabling drilling to proceed,” Quigley said.

Regulators also decided to continue to regulate centralized storage tanks, used to hold shale wastewater, under existing state residual waste regulations.

The final rules still have to be reviewed by two advisory boards within the next month.

One of those boards, the Conventional Oil and Gas Advisory Committee (COGAC), has already said publicly that it won’t support the rules about conventional wells. The DEP decided to split its regulations into two parts: Chapter 78 for conventional (or shallow) wells and Chapter 78A for unconventional (or shale) wells.

Committee members have said the rules for conventional wells are too costly and would stymie an industry made up of small businesses and the rules are “unnecessary and inappropriate” and are “fundamentally flawed and cannot be cured.”

A separate process to write stronger public health rules for the industry is starting now, Quigley said, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The rules are pegged to go into effect in the spring.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @khantasha.