The State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Regulations (“STRONGER”), an independent, multi-stakeholder organization, just released its long-awaited “Pennsylvania Follow-up Review” of the Pennsylvania statutory and regulatory program governing hydraulic fracturing. 

The evaluation, which was done at the Department of Environmental Protection’s (“DEP”) request, was conducted by a six-member STRONGER team and took place in May 2013.  The review consisted of numerous oral interviews as well as written responses to questions. 

Just like its November 2010 review, STRONGER gives the Pennsylvania regulatory program very high marks, finding that “the Pennsylvania program is, overall, well-managed, professional, and meeting its program objectives.”  STRONGER specifically commends the program for the following list of attributes:

  • sufficient statutory authority to promulgate appropriate rules and regulations;
  • increased staffing levels to accommodate additional oversight responsibility;
  • a rigorous process for promulgating and reviewing regulations, obtaining input from stakeholders, including the public, and increasing staffing levels;
  • a restructuring of its oil and gas program;
  • initiating a comprehensive evaluation of radiation levels associated with byproducts of natural gas development;
  • robust stormwater management and erosion and sedimentation control measures that include special consideration for protection of waters designated as High Quality or Exceptional Value;
  • standards for surface controls that exceed STRONGER’s standards; 
  • financial assurance requirements;
  • a public participation process for the abandoned sites program;
  • procedures for the receipt and consideration of citizen complaints;
  • keeping up with changes in environmental and safety programs; and
  • effective enforcement tools.

STRONGER did, however, make some recommendations for improvement regarding data tracking, website design, developing new rules for surface casing settling depths, adopting alternatives to the use of pits for unconventional wells, pre-drill sampling, and advancing consistency across programs.

This STRONGER re-review once again underscores the robustness of Pennsylvania’s regulatory program for hydraulic fracturing.   It also underscores the good leadership of the Governor in establishing the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, and the important role of the Legislature in passing Act 13, which contained many environmental protection provisions.  Finally, it proves again the quality of the hundreds of professionals at the DEP who implement the program and exhibit the necessary leadership that drives the program to be as good as it is.

Click here to see STRONGER’s Follow-Up Report.