Marcellus Shale gas developers must now notify the Allegheny County Health Department before they drill, frack or flare any wells, just as they are required to do for the state and local municipalities.
The new county ordinance, approved by county council last month and signed by Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald on Dec. 27, closes a loophole that omitted the county from the pre-notification requirement in the state's oil and gas law, said Karen Hacker, Health Department director.
"The companies must begin notifying the county of all stages of gas development operations," Dr. Hacker said. "It's exactly the same information the companies must report to the state. We need this information so we can do our job."
The Health Department monitors, regulates and enforces air quality in the county. The state Department of Environmental Protection has air quality responsibility for the rest of the state, except Philadelphia, which also has local air oversight.
Gas companies must notify the Allegheny County Health Department's air quality division at least 24 hours before work begins on well pads, and before they drill, hydraulically fracture, or flare gas. Drillers must also report any equipment malfunctions or breakdowns that could release increased air pollutants. The county can issue violation notices if proper and timely notification is not given.
The purpose of the notifications is to inform ACHD air quality staff of new well developments in time to set up emissions monitors.
"Each of those steps has different emissions and raises different concerns," Jim Thompson, the county's deputy director of environmental health, said at last week's board of health meeting. "The intent of this is to get notification and, if the well locations are near sensitive populations, have time to set up additional emissions monitoring."
Earlier versions of the county notification law, first proposed more than two years ago, and endorsed in January 2013 by the county air quality program's regulation subcommittee, recommended notification three days in advance of any drilling activity. The notification time was reduced to conform with the state and municipal requirements of the state law.
Jayme Graham, the Health Department's air quality chief, said reviewing the notifications and setting up additional monitors, if needed, will mean added work for the department. She said she doesn't know yet if additional staff will be needed.
She said the Health Department will send a mailing soon to all of the shale gas companies that have been doing work in the county to inform them of the expanded notification requirement.
Ms. Graham said state records show 52 well permits have been granted in Allegheny County. According to the latest state Department of Environmental Protection records, 23 Marcellus Shale gas wells are in production in the county and another 15 are in various stages of construction. Fourteen have not been drilled yet.
Consol Energy Inc. has a $500 million deal with Allegheny County to drill 45 Marcellus Shale gas wells, plus two wells into the Upper Devonian Shale, on 9,000 acres around the Pittsburgh International Airport in Findlay. If construction goes as planned it could start producing gas from those wells in the fall of 2015, said Kate O'Donovan, a Consol spokeswoman.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.