New state regulations requiring stronger cement casings in gas wells and better reporting requirements about wastes generated by drilling will likely become law in Pennsylvania in a few weeks.
The state's Independent Regulatory Review Commission voted 15 - 1 to approve the new regulations, which are expected to take affect in early January after the attorney general's office reviews them.
The rules came after the IRRC received nearly 2,000 public comments on the matter, according to Pennsylvania Environment Digest.
Marcellus shale drilling has become a hot topic in Pennsylvania, where gas companies are quickly leasing land that overlays the shale. Several residents in the town of Dimock have been unable to drink their water for more than a year after a well exploded. Other accidents in Clearfield and Bradford Counties have further frightened residents, even as many in these rural parts of the state are lining up to lease their properties to gas companies for thousands of dollars an acre.
Under the new rules, gas companies must improve the quality and placement of their well casing, and make sure the cement, casing and formation are bonded tightly. It also requires operators have a pressure barrier plan.
State officials say the new rules would have prevented previous problems had they been in place. Among the new provisions is a requirement that companies report to the state how much waste they have generated and what chemicals they are using in hydraulic fracturing - the process by which they extract the gas from the rock. Operators need to keep a list of emergency phone numbers at each well site and file and follow an emergency plan in the event gas from their well migrates through rock to pollute water. Problems will have to be reported within 24 hours, instead of 10 days.
These regulations are among the last that will be issued by the outgoing Rendell administration. A new governor, Tom Corbett, will take office in January. He has promised to protect the environment and enforce the law. He remains opposed to a gas severance tax - something every other gas-extracting state has. The tax brings in several million dollars in other states and can help mitigate environmental problems.