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The Chesapeake Bay Foundation is challenging the state’s new expedited permitting process for Marcellus shale gas wells, claiming that it fails to police drilling and doesn’t protect streams from erosion and sedimentation runoff.
The foundation yesterday filed an appeal with the state’s Environmental Hearing Board of permits granted by the state Department of Environmental Protection to Fortuna Energy Inc. to drill in the Tioga State Forest in Tioga County.
Last week, the foundation filed similar appeals of two other DEP permits granted to Fortuna and Ultra Resources for Marcellus shale gas wells on private land in Tioga County.
All of those permits were granted by the DEP since April when it stripped County Conservation Districts of the authority to review gas well drilling erosion and sedimentation plans. The DEP, without public notice, also instituted an expedited permitting process that requires only an administrative review to determine if all permit paperwork has been submitted.
The new DEP permit requires no technical review of the environmental impacts on wetlands or streams by the state, which is illegal under state and federal clean streams law, according to Matt Royer, Chesapeake Bay Foundation attorney.
“The DEP is rubber-stamping permit applications without any independent environmental review,” Mr. Royer said. “And it’s putting Pennsylvania’s precious waters and streams at risk.”
He said winning the appeal would set a statewide precedent and require DEP to perform environmental reviews on each permit application.
Teresa Candori, a DEP spokeswoman, would not comment on the appeal.
When the DEP removed the Conservation Districts from the permitting process, it said the changes would consolidate permit review and inspection within the department’s regional oil and gas offices where 37 new inspectors had been hired to handle a flood of drilling permit applications for Marcellus shale wells.
But the Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water, a coalition of 36 environmental groups, immediately condemned the change as illegal because it was done without public notice and provided for no meaningful agency review of the drilling operations.
It’s estimated that Pennsylvania could have as much as 363 trillion cubic feet of natural gas worth as much as $1 trillion deep underground in the shale formations that underlie three-fourths of the state. The gas wells to tap those deposits are 5,000 to 8,000 feet deep and each uses up to 4 million gallons of pressurized, chemically treated water to crack or “frac” the shale and release the natural gas. The wastewater left over contains high levels of salts, dissolved solids and fracing chemicals.
Mr. Royer said the Tioga County Conservation District had approved an erosion and sedimentation plan for earth disturbance caused by construction of a single eight-acre well pad after doing field surveys of wetlands and stormwater runoff conditions in the state forest.
But in recent months the DEP has approved 13 amendments to that permit, including nine for additional well pads and three for impoundments for drilling waste water that authorized clearing 105 acres of timberland without conducting technical reviews of the plans or their cumulative effects on the forest or nearby streams.Don Hopey can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1983.
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