During a lengthy House Judiciary Committee meeting yesterday, committee members combined the Senate's version of the bill, Senate Bill 4001, into their bill along with some other, minor amendments.
The amended bill passed unanimously in the Senate and passed the House with a 94-5 vote.
House Bill 401 increases fees from $400 per well to $10,000 for the first well and $5,000 for each additional well on a single pad. This increase will allow the hiring of at least 17 more inspectors to inspect and review permits. It also requires that at least one week's notice be given to surface owners before an operator can survey the property and that the surface owner gets a copy of the permit application and other documents which show not only the proposed drilling location but also road and impoundment locations. Surface owners, as well as the public, will also be allowed to comment on the permits. An operator must publish a notice in the local newspaper in the county that the drilling will occur on or before filing a permit application. Operators must also enter into an agreement with the Department of Highways (DOH) in order to repair any roads harmed and to also post performance bonds.
Significant additions to permit requirements were also included in the bill. These additions include a sediment control plan, well site construction and safety plan, and a water management plan that includes proposed water withdrawal locations. The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been given broad authority regarding distributing these permits.
A concern raised during the House Judiciary's public hearing Monday was the safety of the publics' water wells. One safeguard to combat this fear is a 500 foot increase over the current law for the presumption of contamination for water wells. Also, all fracking additives must be disclosed to the DEP as well as adding safeguards for well casings and drilling in karst terrain. This terrain includes exposed, mechanically and chemically weathered and eroded limestone landscape that may contain sinkholes, caves, and other features.
Lastly, House Bill 401 requires studies for air, pits and impoundments, noise, and job creation be implemented.
Both the House and the Senate adjourned Sine Die.