Two recent actions by Governor Corbett and Secretary Abruzzo’s Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) show, once again, the DEP’s mettle in protecting the environment and public health and safety, as well as this administration’s continuing commitment to strong action in stewarding responsible development of the Commonwealth’s natural gas resources.
First, on August 5, 2013, the DEP revoked the permit of Aquatic Synthesis Unlimited (“ASU”) and announced it will use the company’s $1 million bond to begin cleaning up the Indiana County site, which holds 1 million gallons of shale wastewater and about 5 million tons of contaminated soil. A remediation firm has already been hired to perform the necessary cleanup. ASU showed its inability or lack of intention to comply with the law and the DEP acted properly and decisively in shuttering the facility and commencing the cleanup.
Such enforcement actions are very important in assuring responsible development of our natural resources. Cheaters should not be allowed to “gain the system” because that is a “double whammy.” Cheaters are simultaneously stealing a competitive advantage over law-abiding companies who make the investments to operate properly—thus undermining the free market—and they are creating a probable or real danger of environmental harm.
The Environmental Defense Fund (“EDF”) applauded the DEP’s action—and we should all do the same. As EDF said in its press release congratulating the DEP, proper management of shale gas wastewater streams is essential. The DEP has always thought so, too. Early on in my Secretariat, Governor Corbett and I issued the call to unconventional drillers to stop delivering wastewater to the few facilities that had been “grandfathered” to continue to operate without the degree of treatment required by the 2010 Total Dissolved Solids regulations. The industry complied right away and we changed the landscape of shale gas wastewater management overnight.
Secondly, on August 8, 2013, the DEP finalized its Technical Guidance (the “Guidance”) regarding air emissions from shale well sites. This Guidance was long in the works and is a big step forward in protecting air quality. Of course, the use of natural gas as a fuel has already resulted in significant air quality improvements in Pennsylvania to the tune of about $14 to $36 billion in annual public health benefits. The new Guidance includes numerous air quality performance and other standards. For example, practices such as leak detection and repair are included. Also, flaring is only allowed in emergency circumstances. In fact, the DEP’s Guidance goes well beyond what applicable federal air standards require. Moreover, in an important part of the Guidance that is not well publicized, the DEP exempts compressed natural gas dispensing facilities meeting certain strict requirements from needing an air permit to operate. This will help pave the way toward the important transition to publically available natural gas fueling stations for consumer natural gas fueled vehicles. This will allow all of us to enjoy even cleaner air in the near future.
The DEP is to be applauded for these actions.