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Proposed Pennsylvania Regulations Seek to Address Fracking Issues

Oct 20, 2010 | Parker Waichman LLP

Pennsylvania regulators have given a first nod to proposed gas drilling regulations that would, among other things, require the disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. According to the Associated Press, the Pennsylvania Environmental Quality Board on Tuesday voted 14-1 to approve a proposal to update regulations to cover fracking in the state’s Marcellus Shale. The current Pennsylvania gas drilling regulations were written for shallow wells.

For the past two years, gas drillers have been descending upon Pennsylvania, anxious to tap the vast natural gas resources in the state’s Marcellus shale. To get at the natural gas, drillers use a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, which involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. Environmentalists are concerned that fracking could contaminate the state’s waterways, some of which supply water to cities along the East Coast.

According to the Associated Press, the new regulations would lower the maximum allowable well pressures, raise standards for well cement and pipes, and require drilling companies to restore water supplies they pollute. They also would require drilling companies to report waste volumes electronically and to report the chemicals used in each well.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) wrote the proposed gas drilling regulations, and they have the support of at least one industry group. Before the new Pennsylvania drilling regulations go into effect, they still need to be approved by the state’s Independent Regulatory Review Commission and legislative committees.

Fracking has already been blamed for instances of water contamination in Pennsylvania. Perhaps the most well-known occurred in the Susquehanna County town of Dimock, near the New York border. There, problems with the cement casing on 20 wells drilled by Cabot Oil & Gas have caused contamination of local water wells, driving down property values and causing sickness. Levels of methane in some Dimock water wells are so high that homeowners are able to set water aflame as it comes out of their taps.

In October 2009, state regulators finally acknowledged that a major contamination of the aquifer had occurred. In addition to methane, dangerously high levels of iron and aluminum were found in some wells. Fifteen Dimock residents whose wells were contaminated are now suing Cabot.

Other Pennsylvania residents have reported similar problems. In September, for example, 13 families from Susquehanna County’s Lenox Township – just 10 miles from Dimock – filed suit against another driller, Houston, Texas-based Southwest Energy Production Company, for allegedly allowing a fracking operation to contaminate their water wells. Those families are being represented by the national law firm of Parker Waichman LLP, LLP.

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