The Drilling Permit Application Process
By Paul R. Yagelski, Esquire
What Can a Landowner Do When It Receives Notice of an Application for a Drilling Permit? Are There Objections That the Landowner Can File to the Application?
You, the landowner, have received notice that an application for a drilling permit for drilling a well on your land has been filed with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (“PA DEP”). What is the process? What can you do after you have received notice of the filing of an application for a drilling permit? Can you file an objection? If so, on what basis?
In Pennsylvania, no person can drill or alter a well without having first obtained a well permit. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(a). In order to obtain a permit, an application has to be filed with the PA DEP.
The permit application is to be accompanied by a plat prepared by a competent engineer or surveyor on forms furnished by the PA DEP. The plat is to show the political subdivision and county in which the tract of land upon which the well to be drilled, operated or altered is located. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(b)(1). The plat is also to show a list of the municipalities adjacent to the well site; the name of the surface landowner of record and lessor; the name of all surface landowners and water purveyors whose water supplies are within 1,000 feet of proposed well location or, in the case of an unconventional well, within 3,000 from the vertical well bore; the name of the owner of record or operator of all known underlying workable coal seams; the acreage in the tract to be drilled; the proposed location of the well determined by survey, courses and distances of the location from two or more permanent identifiable points or landmarks on the tract boundary corners; the proposed angle and direction of the well if the well is to deviate substantially from a vertical course; the number or other identification to be given the well; the workable coal seams underlying the tract of land upon which the well is to be drilled or altered and which are to be cased off under 58 Pa. C.S. § 3217 (relating to protection of fresh groundwater and casing requirements); and any other information needed by the PA DEP.
The oil and gas company is required to forward a copy of the plat by certified mail to the surface landowner; the municipality in which the tract of land upon which the well is to be drilled is located; each municipality within 3,000 feet of the proposed unconventional vertical well bore; the municipalities adjacent to the well; all surface landowners and water purveyors, whose water supplies are within 1,000 feet of the proposed well location or, in the case of an unconventional well, within 3,000 feet of the proposed unconventional vertical well bore; storage operators within 3,000 feet of proposed unconventional vertical well bore; the owner and lessee of any coal seams; and each coal operator required to be identified on the well permit application. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(b)(1).
The oil and gas company is to submit proof of notification with the well permit application. Notification of surface owners is to be performed by sending notice to those persons to whom the tax notices for the surface property are sent, as indicated in the assessment books in the county in which the property is located. Notification to surface landowners or water purveyors is to be on forms prescribed by the PA DEP, sufficient to identify the rights afforded to those persons under 58 Pa. C.S. § 3218 (relating to protection of water supplies) and to advise these persons of the advantage of taking their own predrilling or prealteration survey. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(b.1).
If the oil and gas company submits to the PA DEP written approval of the proposed well location by the surface landowner and the coal operator, lessee or owner of any coal underlying the proposed well location and no objections are raised by the PA DEP within 15 days of filing, or if no approval has been submitted and no objections are made to the proposed well location within 15 days of receipt of notice by the PA DEP, the surface landowner or any coal operator, lessee or owner, written approval of the permit application is to be filed and will become a permanent record of the well location, subject to inspection at any time by any interested person. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(b.2).
The PA DEP is to issue a permit within 45 days of the submission of permit application (it often takes longer) unless the PA DEP denies the permit application for one or more of the following reasons:
- the well site for which the permit is requested is in violation of any provision of 58 Pa. C.S. § 3201 et seq, or issuance of the permit would result in the violation of the aforesaid;
- the permit application is incomplete;
- unresolved objections to the well location by the coal mine owner or operator remain;
- the requirements of 58 Pa. C.S. § 3225 (relating to bonding) have not been met;
- PA DEP finds that the permit applicant, or any parent or subsidiary corporation of the permit applicant, is in continuing violation of 58 Pa. C.S. § 3201 et seq., any other statute administered by the PA DEP, any regulation promulgated under 58 Pa. C.S. § 3201 et seq., or under a statute administered by the PA DEP or any plan of approval, permit or order of the PA DEP, unless the violation is being corrected to the satisfaction of the PA DEP; and
- the permit applicant failed to pay the fee or file a report under Section 2303(c) (relating to administration), unless an appeal is pending.
58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(e.1). The PA DEP has the right to extend the 45 day period for 15 days for cause shown.
If a well will be located on a tract whose surface is owned by a person other than the well operator; e.g., the landowner, then the landowner is to be notified of the intention to drill and may file objections if the well location violates 58 P.S. § 3215 (relating to well location restrictions) or the information on the permit application is untrue in any material respect. These objections must be filed within 15 days of the receipt of the plat that is to be sent to the landowner by the permit applicant under 58 P.S. § 32011(b). Receipt of notice by the landowner is to be presumed to have occurred 15 days from the date of certified mailing when the well operator submits a copy of the certified mail receipt sent to the landowner in an affidavit certifying that the address of the landowner to which notice was sent is the same as the address listed in the assessment books in the county where the property is located. If no objection is filed or none is raised within 15 days after receipt of the plat by the landowner or if written approval by the landowner is filed with the PA DEP and no objection is raised by the PA DEP within 15 days of filing, the PA DEP is to proceed to issue or deny the permit. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3212(a).
The PA DEP or any person having a direct interest in a matter under 58 Pa. C.S. § 3201, et seq., may, at any time, request that a conference be held to discuss and attempt to resolve by mutual agreement a matter arising under 58 Pa. C.S. § 3201, et seq. See 58 Pa. C.S. § 3251(a). Unless otherwise provided, conferences are to be held within 90 days after a request is received by the PA DEP, and notice is to be given by the PA DEP to all interested parties. A representative of the PA DEP is to attend the conference and the department may make recommendations. An agreement reached at a conference must be consistent with the statute and if approved by the PA DEP, it is to be reduced to writing and is to be effective, unless reviewed and rejected by the PA DEP, within 10 days after the conference. A record of an agreement approved by the PA DEP is to be kept on file by the PA DEP and copies are to be furnished to the parties. The scheduling of a conference is to have no effect on the PA DEP’s authority to issue the permit or to compel compliance with the statute. Id.
If the drilling permit is issued, the well operator may drill, operate or alter a well at the exact location shown on the plat after providing the PA DEP, the landowner and the local political subdivision in which the well is to be located 24 hours’ notice of the date that drilling will commence. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(f). The well permit and the operator’s name, address and telephone number are to be conspicuously posted at the drilling site during the site preparation, including the construction of access roads, construction of the well site and during drilling, operating or alteration of the well. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(g). A copy of the permit shall be kept at the well site during preparation and construction of the well site or access road during drilling or alteration of a well. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(a).
Well permits issued for drilling wells expire one year after issuance unless operations for the drilling of the well are commenced within that period and pursued with due diligence or unless the permit is renewed in accordance with the regulations of the PA DEP. If drilling is commenced during the one year period, the well permit remains in force until the well is plugged in accordance with 58 Pa. C.S. § 3220 (relating to plugging requirements) or the permit is revoked. 58 Pa. C.S. § 3211(i).
Accordingly, if you, the landowner, receives notification of a well permit application, it should be reviewed carefully. If the permit application violates well location restrictions or the information thereon is untrue in any material respect or should you believe that there is something else wrong with the permit application, you should contact an oil and gas attorney. An objection must be filed within 15 days of receipt of the notification; otherwise, the drilling permit may be issued.
If you received a drilling permit application and have questions, contact us online or call (412) 338-1124.