A Bradford-based organization for small, independent oil producers filed suit Thursday against the state Department of Environmental Protection challenging new regulations that sweep them in with unconventional drilling operations.

The Pennsylvania Independent Petroleum Producers Association (PIPP) filed suit in Commonwealth Court against the DEP, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Environmental Quality Board and Independent Regulatory Review Commission.

The group, lead by president Mark Cline of Cline Oil, is represented by Harrisburg attorney Christopher Carusone of Cohen Seglias Pallas Greenhall & Furman.

“It’s not something we wanted to do, because we don’t have the money, but we don’t have the choice,” Cline told The Era. With crude prices down, conventional producers are facing a loss of business and are laying off workers.

And especially now, these strict regulations, which will cost $28.6 million for conventional producers statewide to implement, “would spell the end to a 155-year-old legacy in Pennsylvania,” Cline said.

He explained the law specifically states that regulations governing conventional oil and gas wells must be separate from laws governing unconventional wells. The regulations were passed together, and “the vast majority of these rules are the same for both conventional and unconventional operators despite important differences between the two industries that are already known to the DEP,” reads the complaint.

“The EQB also ignored the legislative intent … which was a recognition that the conventional and unconventional industries are two different industries and that they should be regulated separately,” the complaint noted.

A press release from PIPP indicated, “The lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that the new regulations are unlawful and therefore unenforceable in their current form.” An immediate decision is sought before the Independent Regulatory Review Commission holds a hearing on the new regulations on April 21; or in the alternative, prevent the hearing from taking place until the court can issue a ruling.

Should the regulations become finalized at the IRCC meeting April 21, they will appear in the Pennsylvania Bulletin and become law. Should that happen, it would expose PIPP’s members “to an increased risk of monetary fines and/or other penalties prior to judicial resolution of the claim presented in this petition.” In fact, the suit read, PIPP members will be fined beginning the first day of the regulations’ publication.

“A greater injury will result from refusing rather than granting the relief requested,” the suit stated. The DEP and EQB would be able to promulgate separate regulations for conventional and unconventional producers. And existing laws would still be in effect while that is being done.

Cline reiterated that this isn’t something he wants to do, but most of the 350 members of PIPP are individuals or small, family run businesses that cannot afford the new regulations.

In contrast, the unconventional producers are some of the largest and most active companies in natural gas production, gathering and transmission.

“We have no choice whatsoever,” Cline said. “I’ve met with everybody and that’s all (the answer) I get — you’ve got to take them to court.

“The DEP was created years ago by the legislators, but they never put checks and balances in,” he said. “The cost of this is unbelievable.”