Five Facts About Pennsylvania’s Setback Requirements

When it comes to the safe development of job-creating shale gas, Pennsylvania continues to lead by example, including regulations related to setbacks [“setbacks” are the distance from a wellhead to a certain structure or body of water]. To be sure, Pennsylvania’s setback requirements are among the nation’s most stringent.

  • According to Resources for the Future analysis, Pennsylvania’s setbacks are industry-leading compared to other top energy-producing states:

Of 20 states with laws that regulate building setback restrictions, and 12 that regulate water supply setback restrictions, Pennsylvania ranks in the top four.

Of those four states, Pennsylvania’s setback requirement from existing structures – 500 feet – ranks second only to West Virginia’s 625-foot requirement.

Of those four states, Pennsylvania’s setback requirement from water supply extraction points – 300 feet to 1,000 feet – ranks first for states with active shale development.

  • The State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), a national independent non-profit organization comprised of representatives from government agencies, environmental advocacy groups and industry, recognized Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations – specifically highlighting setback requirements – as sound.
  • Despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2013 Act 13 decision to strike down the law’s enhanced setback requirements entirely, the natural gas industry is voluntarily complying with the law’s stringent requirements, given the importance of operational safety.
  • While well site-related incidents are incredibly rare – given how strong Pennsylvania’s regulations are coupled with the industry’s commitment to adhering to best operational practices – several events have proven that the current distance requirements protect public safety.
  • Further increasing the state’s already stringent setback requirements would only restrict Pennsylvania land- and mineral-owners’ right to responsibly develop their energy resources and would provide no additional safety or environmental benefit. Put simply, such proposals are solutions in search of problems.