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Pennsylvania DEP rolls back approval process for shale violations

May 4, 2011

Victory — you did it!  Two days after Protecting Our Waters and Energy Justice sent a delegation of eight into Governor Corbett’s Philadelphia office, while 60 demonstrated outside, with letters demanding the DEP policy be rescinded; immediately after we co-organized three demonstrations in one week (River to River April 23rd with 300; Harrisburg April 27th with 150) and during our ongoing FAX and phone call campaign demanding to rescind the DEP policy of requiring political approval for violation notices, they rescinded the policy!  Good job to the many organizations and hundreds, likely thousands of individuals who collectively expressed outrage: it worked!

Protecting Our Waters Letter to Governor Tom Corbett: Rescind DEP Violations Policy Immediately

Days after Michael Krancer defended his agency and 5 weeks after the recently amended procedure went into effect, the Pennsylvania DEP has decided to roll back its approval policy when issuing notices of violation (NOV) to gas drillers.  No longer will there need to be pre-approval from on high for DEP employees to do their job regulating the natural gas industry in the state.

Selected excerpts from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article “DEP rolls back approval process for shale violations“:

 “Katy Gresh, DEP spokeswoman, said the department’s oil and gas field inspectors are again allowed to write violation notices as they did prior to a March 23 internal department memo that directed them to take no action on violations until they received ‘final clearance’ from DEP Secretary Michael Krancer and a handful of other administrators.”

“Staff at the DEP’s regional offices grumbled at the March 23 memo and — after it was leaked to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and other news organizations — a storm of protests from environmental organizations and businesses followed. They feared the change would reduce enforcement of the state’s fast-growing Marcellus gas drilling industry and endanger the public.

The DEP said the procedural changes were only meant to be a three-month ‘pilot program’ aimed at improving enforcement ‘consistency.’ But 42 environmental groups, faith groups and businesses sent a letter to Gov. Tom Corbett on April 7 asking him to rescind the new procedures immediately.”

“‘The three-month pilot program amounted to backpedaling, and the department was not sensitive to how worried and concerned the public is about Marcellus Shale drilling issues,’ Ms. [Jan] Jarrett [president and chief executive officer of Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future] said.

‘We’re satisfied with this change back to the way it was, but we’re taking a trust-but-verify approach going forward. We’ll be doing our own independent monitoring of the department’s enforcement across all programs with a special eye on the Marcellus drilling’.”

Of interest is the final sentence in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article:

“DEP inspectors issued 1,227 notices of violations in 2010 and 68 in January 2011.”

These numbers mean the DEP was on pace for 33% less violations than last year under the short lived pre-approval by political appointees NOV rules.  Something to remember is that there are many more drilling sites in 2011 than in years previous, leading to what seems to be less violations handed out over a larger spread of sites.  This invites interesting speculation over whether there was simply less enforcement during this period of time, if the oil and gas industry is getting more compliant with PA rules and regulations, or if NOVs have a seasonal fluctuation and there are more of them in the summer months.

  1. Patrick Walker permalink
    May 4, 2011 9:23 am

    I’m as suspicious of the Corbett administration’s drilling policy as anyone; I think my record speaks for itself. But I wanted to throw in a note of caution, just to be fair.

    I’d seen the Pittsbugh Post-Gazette article before reading this blog, and the 68 violation notices for January roused the same suspicion in my mind. But then I had another thought–wouldn’t January, in any year, be a month of lessened drilling activityand therefore of fewer violations? I doubt the 1,227 notices last year were evenly distributed throughout the year; a more relevant comparison would be between this January and previous ones. Of course, even there, the overall level of drilling would have to be taken into account.

    Just a quibble, so as avoid giving pro-drillers ammo. Overall, great work with the blog.

    • May 4, 2011 5:02 pm

      Here’s another January statistic worth considering: Since January 1, 2011, the PA DEP has approved a whopping 956 permits, with a large majority in the Upper Delaware Watershed Region. Makes one wonder if their primary function is regulating or issuing permits? They don’t really care about NOVs. They’re gonna slap wrists and fines, either way. It’s a RED HERRING. Their real interest is creating a disposal route for recycled (distilled) frack flowback, not mitigating environmental impacts or protecting the public interest from the drilling itself.

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