PA Audit: Gas Well Oversight ‘Subpar’

Monday, July 28, 2014 @ 06:07 PM gHale

Caught off guard by the rapid development of Pennsylvania’s shale gas fields, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has done a subpar job at enforcing environmental rules and has been unable to efficiently respond to complaints, a new audit said.

“There are very dedicated, hard-working people at DEP, but they are being hampered in doing their jobs by lack of resources – including staff and a modern information-technology system — and inconsistent or failed implementation of department policies, among other things, “ said Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene A. DePasquale.

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“It is almost like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose. There is no question that DEP needs help and soon to protect clean water,” he said.

Among the audit’s findings:
• The department was inconsistent in requiring oil and gas companies to clean up impacted water supplies as required by law.
• The department relies on a “disjointed” process to track gas well wastewater. That process relies on three different reports, as well as self-reported information from companies.
• The department’s complaint-tracking system is inefficient and ineffective, and it doesn’t provide department managers with timely information.
• The department couldn’t provide assurances it had timely inspected all shale-gas wells.

The audit covers a period from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2012. In all, it makes eight findings and lists 29 recommendations for improvement.

The department disagreed with all eight findings. However, it agreed with many of the recommendations. That, the auditor general’s office said, indicates the DEP acknowledges there is room for improvement.

The department, meanwhile, said many of the recommendations contained in the audit have already undergone implementation or are in the process of implementation.

It also said it is important to consider that Act 13, which overhauled the state’s long-standing oil and gas laws, ended up enacted during the time of the audit. The law brought about sweeping changes to the department’s regulatory authority, it said.

The act became law Feb. 14, 2012.

“We’re not surprised by the results of this audit; we’ve volunteered to have our Oil and Gas program audited numerous times in the past by a nonprofit, multistakeholder organization called State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations Inc. (Stronger),” department Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo said in a statement. “The most recent Stronger audit was in March of 2013, and they found our program to be proficient and ready to address the increase of oil and gas operations in Pennsylvania, specifically praising our hydraulic fracturing and well construction regulations that are designed to protect fresh groundwater,” he said.

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