After four years and 28,000 public comments, a controversial set of oil and gas drilling regulations narrowly won approval from the Independent Regulatory Review Commission
Ultimately, Commissioners Murray Ufberg and Dennis Watson joined IRRC Chairman George Bedwick in a 3-2 vote to approve the regulations, all agreeing the Department of Environmental Protection had done its best to strike a balance between the drilling industry and those who bemoan drilling’s impact on the environment.
“I think consensus in a situation such as this is difficult, if not impossible, to achieve,” Ufberg said before casting his vote April 22. “I believe the department has addressed this regulation as earnestly and honestly as it claims that it has and it appears that it has.”
Ufberg said he “fully understands the industry representatives do not feel that balance.” Those representatives delivered more than half of the nearly eight hour meeting’s public comments.
“But it is not, in my judgment, responsible to say the current regulations are adequate,” Ufberg added.
“I believe the process was transparent,” Watson said. “There may be people who felt they didn’t get their way … but it does not negate the fact that for four years there was considerable effort to get as many people involved as possible.”
Commissioners John Mizner and W. Russell Faber voted to disapprove the regulations.
“I’m not certain the DEP has met its burden to show why the stringent regulations for the conventional drilling industry are needed,” Mizner said. “There’s been a lot of discussions, issues and concerns, but I’m not sure, from my perspective, that these regulations are an answer to those concerns.”
DEP Secretary John Quigley, who characterized the regulations as “the most important rulemaking” since the founding of the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania, released a statement applauding the IRRC’s vote.
“I am pleased that IRRC moved these important regulatory updates closer to the finish line,” he said. “The Chapter 78 and 78A regulations have been written with an unprecedented amount of public participation, including from the conventional and unconventional drilling industries. This final regulatory package will improve protection of water resources, add public resources considerations, protect public health and safety, address landowner concerns, enhance transparency, and improve data management.”
Now all eyes turn to Republicans in the House and Senate to see if either of the environmental resources and energy standing committees report out a concurrent resolution to their chambers’ full membership to stop the regulations from taking effect. Those committees have 14 days from the receipt of the IRRC’s action to move the resolution of disapproval — something Gov. Tom Wolf could still ultimately veto.
Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for the Senate Republican Caucus said it’s “a little too premature to speculate on what the committee will do.”
“But it’s important to note the outstanding issues raised by members of the committee remain the same,” she said. “A disapproval resolution is a definite option moving forward.”
Whether a veto override would be possible remains unclear, though Rep. Greg Vitali, D-Delaware, told IRRC commissioners House Republicans could pursue it.