Proposal requires drillers to inform Allegheny County about their progress

Council to move on filling loophole at Tuesday meeting

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Allegheny County Council is considering new reporting requirements for natural gas companies, filling a gap in the policing of shale drilling.

On Tuesday, council will decide whether to require energy companies to notify the county Health Department when they hit any one of four milestones in the drilling process, giving the department's air quality inspectors time to set up monitoring equipment.

"If we get notification there's going to be a well site and if there is a populated area close by, we may consider additional monitoring in that community," said Jim Thompson, the Allegheny County Health Department's deputy director of environmental health. "It's so we can deploy our assets best."

Mr. Thompson is in a rare position. Allegheny County and Philadelphia are the only two counties in Pennsylvania to regulate air quality locally, with the rest of the state overseen by the Department of Environmental Protection in Harrisburg. As such, the health department's 14 inspectors are assigned to make sure natural gas drillers conform to the myriad regulations imposed on them by both county and state law.

Until now, an oversight in state drilling regulations have left them flying blind. While drillers are required to give advance notice to the state on four milestones -- clearing the well site, drilling the well, the start of the hydraulic fracturing process and any flaring that occurs -- there's no provision requiring them to include Allegheny County.

The proposal before council would fill that hole, bringing the county the same reports the state receives. It means inspectors can be on hand for important events, Mr. Thompson said.

"For instance, during the fracturing process, there's a lot truck traffic, there are a lot of diesel engine issues," he said. "These inspectors are somewhat flexible -- we can move them into different areas."

Last week, county council's health and human services committee approved the proposal, sending it to the full council for a final vote Tuesday evening. Mr. Thompson said the new rule has been in the works for about two years and has seen extensive public vetting.

That said, it's not likely the regulation would see a lot of use.

Better to be prepared, Mr. Thompson said.

"If that changes in the future, we're ready."


Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.

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