The divide over natural gas drilling and how it should be regulated was apparent during a public hearing Wednesday on Washington & Jefferson College’s campus.
More than 60 people signed up to share final thoughts on the state Department of Environmental Protection’s proposed rules for the industry, which are expected to go into effect in spring 2016. The DEP extended a lengthy comment period and added three additional hearings in Washington, Warren County and Williamsport leading up to May 19, the final day to submit written testimony.
Some thanked state regulators for making earnest improvements to fracking regulations, while industry representatives called the proposed rules punitive and unnecessary. However, many called for more stringent regulations.
Raina Rippel, director of the Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, applauded the DEP for making a “positive fist step,” but criticized the proposed setback distance of 200 feet from a well head to a school.
“The setback distance I see in these regulations are inadequate,” Rippel said. “Schoolchildren are at risk, and the reason I say those two things, and the reason we do the work we do, is that the body of evidence, we believe, proves this to be true.”
Centralized storage tanks would need to be at least 300 yards away from schools, parks and playgrounds. Rippel and several others called for a one-mile setback from schools.
Joy Ruff, of Dawood Engineering in Canonsburg, said the regulations would hurt the firm of nearly 200 employees, which relies on business from Marcellus Shale companies. She said the proposed rules are “punitive and border on government overreach” and criticized the DEP for not conducting a cost-benefit analysis.
“What is the cost to small business?” she asked. “What would the economic impacts be to Dawood Engineering?”
Charles Hunnell, of Center Township in Greene County, was the only speaker in the first half of the hearing whose incensed remarks elicited applause. He criticized the use of wastewater impoundments and the quality of local streams.
“We in rural Pennsylvania are being treated like a third-world playground for the extraction industries,” he said. “You have adversely affected the lives of thousands of rural Pennsylvanians by appearing to operate as the proxy of the gas industry and the coal industry.”
The proposed regulations would ban the use of on-site wastewater pits, except for those used at conventional well sites, and restrict the use of typically larger, centralized impoundments.
Boyd Ramsey also addressed the issue of impoundments in his capacity as a representative of GSE Environmental, which makes geosynthetic liners. He said the DEP’s proposed requirement for impoundment liners to be 30 millimeters thick is “woefully inadequate.”
He said the DEP should implement a system of composite liners, leak detection systems and liner integrity surveys.
Comments on the proposed regulations can be submitted via email to RegComments@pa.gov or by mail to the Environmental Quality Board at P.O. Box 8477, Harrisburg, PA 17105-8477.