A Guide to Protecting our Schools and
Communities from Shale Gas Development
Below is a brief overview of tools for tracking oil and gas related permits, but for a comprehensive step-by-step manual on how to track proposed shale gas infrastructure, how to participate in the permitting process, and how to obtain information, please see Clean Air Council’s guide, Natural Gas in Your Community, Participating in Decision Making & Tracking Infrastructure.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection
E-Facts: This tool allows you to search for DEP permits by location, company, or permit number.
E-Notice: This tool allows you to view permit application notices for your township or county. Updates are received daily via e-mail, or as they occur.
The PA Bulletin is the Commonwealth's official gazette for information and rulemaking that is sometimes subject to public comment. The latest publication is available every Friday at 9 a.m. EDT. The PA Bulletin publishes notices from all Commonwealth departments including the Department of Environmental Protection.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
FERC regulates interstate natural gas pipelines, or those that span multiple states. Monitor the FERC docket for major pipelines projects and compressor stations.
eLibrary: Use this tool to search by filing date, docket number, or project name.
eSubscription: Sign up for online notifications of the FERC docket.
Types of Permits
Permitting is a complex topic because the type of permit required is linked to the nature of the project and its impacts on the environment. The type of permit will depend on the specific type of facility, the size of the project, projected air emissions, projected water impacts, and other factors. Below is a generalized list of common permits related to shale gas operations. Proposed shale gas facilities will often need a number of the following permits:
Drill and Operate (D&O): Required to drill a new oil or gas well; re-drill, alter, or deepen an existing well; renew a permit about to expire; or re-permit an expired well permit. A Drill and Operate permit is required for each individual well on a pad. Drill and Operate are not required to be noticed in the PA Bulletin because they are not subject to public comment.
Erosion and Sedimentation Control Plan: Required for oil and gas activities that involve five acres or more of the earth disturbance activity, generally used for the construction of a well pad or pipeline.
Water Obstruction and Encroachment: Required to construct, operate, maintain, modify, enlarge or abandon a dam, water obstruction or encroachment. This permit is required for construction activities that cross a stream or wetland.
National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES): Required for a discharge into the waters of the commonwealth. An NPDES permit generally requires an Erosion and Sedimentation Control plan (E&S), a Post Construction Stormwater Management plan, a Thermal Impact Analysis, and an Antidegradation Analysis, which all detail how applicants plan to control the quantity and quality of stormwater resulting from proposed development.
Air Quality Plan Approval: Required for the construction, modification, reactivation, or installation of an air contamination source. Must include the location of the source, contact information for the source’s operator, proof of compliance with the Clean Air Act, a plan for handling air pollution emergencies, and a completed compliance review form.
GP-5 (General Permit 5): Required for air emissions from a natural gas compressor station or a processing facility. Compressor stations and processing facilities are facilities used to purify and pressurize natural gas to prepare it for transportation through pipelines. These facilities must be a minor source of air pollution to apply for the general permit. Companies that apply for general permits agree to a set of permit requirements determined through a publicly vetted process and DEP has a 30-day time period to review and approve the permit. By design, general permits do not allow an opportunity for public comment or public hearings.
Title V: An operating permit required for air emissions from a major source facility. The permit requires additional regulatory oversight, including more stringent pollution controls, monitoring, and record-keeping. Title V is a single document that contains all federal and state air pollution control requirements for a specific facility. Title V also provides critical public participation opportunities.
The DEP follows a certain process and adheres to a timeline in order to file, review, and approve permits. Below are some terminology and timelines associated with DEP’s process for reviewing a permit application submitted by industry. Some of this information comes directly from the DEP’s Policy for Implementing the Department of Environmental Protection Permit Review Process and Permit Decision Guarantee, so click the title for more information.
Application Received: Once an application is received, it must be inputted into the DEP system within 5 days.
Completeness Review: Must happen within 15 days.
Completeness Letter: The application is deemed administratively complete. Within this time frame, you can expect to see a notification through E-Notice.
Technical Deficiency Letter: If the PA DEP determines an application is deficient or more information is needed, the Department will send a Technical Deficiency letter to the applicant. The letter will detail the information or clarifications being sought by the PA DEP and the timeline in which the applicant must submit that requested information. The additional information will be reviewed by the Department before any decisions are made. If more information is still needed, the PA DEP can issue additional Technical Deficiency letters until all required information has been submitted.
Permit Decision Guarantee: Permit Decision Guarantee: The Permit Decision Guarantee applies to technically-adequate applications that address all applicable regulatory and statutory requirements in the first submission. This guarantee shortens the timeframe during which DEP can make a decision. However, the Permit Decision Guarantee does not mean that all application decisions will be made on timelines alone. Click Here for Permit Decision Guarantee reference link, including the quote above.
I: Follow the Permitting Process
While municipalities make decisions about where drilling can occur, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regulates the day-to-day operations of shale gas facilities through their permitting process. Pipelines, well pads, compressor stations, and processing facilities all require DEP permits. Tracking these permits will give you advanced notice of future development in your community and will provide you with opportunities for participation in the regulatory process.
Halt the Harm Network also has a flowchart available to help you understand the permitting process (coming soon).
Public Participation in Permitting
Once you learn how to track permits, you can start participating in the permitting process by submitting comments on specific permit applications or testifying at public hearings. Comment periods for proposed gas infrastructure are a critical opportunity to ensure your voice is heard and that your concerns are documented on the record in an official process.
Submitting public comments to the DEP is a formal procedure for most types of permits. For permits that do not have a public comment period, like Drill and Operate permits, you can still submit comments during the technical review phase. Comments do not have to be technical in nature and can focus on your concerns about the proposed facility and questions you have about the application.
PA DEP is required to consider and respond to comments and testimony with a written report called a comment and response document, which lists out responses to comments or testimony from each individual or group of people with similar questions.
If recommendations are provided on the permit, the Department will either agree or disagree, and provide a justification. Some permits in the past were made stricter because of public pressure. If your concerns are not addressed, this can be grounds for appealing the issuance of a permit.
For more details on how to prepare comments and testimony, please see pp. 3-7 of Clean Air Council’s guide: Natural Gas in Your Community: Participating in Decision Making & Tracking Infrastructure.
A permit decision can be appealed and there are various avenues for doing so. Moving a permit into an appeals process usually requires consulting with an attorney. For more information on how to appeal a permit, please see Section 1021.51 of the PA Code which describes in great detail the rules and procedures for filing a permit appeal.
For more details on the permit appeal process to the Environmental Hearing Board, please see pp.8-9 of Clean Air Council’s guide: Natural Gas in Your Community: Participating in Decision Making & Tracking Infrastructure. To understand more about legal considerations, click here for that section of the guide.