Commission improves tougher water regulations on gas drillers

John Hanger testifies before IRRC

A state regulatory commission has signed off on increased water quality standards that will limit what natural gas drillers can dump into Pennsylvania’s streams.

The guidelines prevent gas drillers from depositing water with more than 500 milligrams of total dissolved solids – or TDS —  per liter into rivers and streams. That means the companies would have to drastically clean up fracing fluid, which typically contains between one hundred and three hundred thousand milligrams of TDS, according to Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger.

Tony Gaudis of Range Resources represented the drilling industry at the hearing. He testified the guidelines are too stringent, pointing out a bottle of San Pellegrino runs afoul of the 500 milligram limit.

Hanger countered the law is fashioned to comply with federal clean water standards, and is designed to avoid water that “smells bad, tastes bad, and causes damage…to fish.”

Drillers also object to being singled out as an industry. Gaudis said it’s unfair for the regulation to focus specifically on the TDS in fracing water.

Marcellus Shale drilling was the front and center in Harrisburg this week, and it’s increasingly clear the Gulf of Mexico oil spill is having an impact on the debate over regulations, a severance tax, and a moratorium on state forest land leasing. Yesterday, during a Senate hearing on the Clearfield County gas leak, several lawmakers referenced the BP disaster as an example of why the commonwealth needs to increase its regulations. And during today’s hearing, commissioner David Fineman told Gaudis his obligation is to keep the commonwealth’s water clean, and to “make sure Pennsylvania doesn’t look like Louisiana.”

The regulations can technically be overridden, if the House and Senate pass a joint resolution within the next 14 days that’s then signed by Governor Rendell. Considering the Rendell Administration has worked long and hard to pass this regulation, though, I think it’s safe to assume the governor would veto such a bill.

The new regulations go into effect January 1, and will only impact future drilling.



About pubradiopolitics
Scott covers state government and politics for Pennsylvania's public radio stations, including WITF in Harrisburg, WHYY in Philadelphia and WDUQ in Pittsburgh.

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