Shale gas drilling industry growth unchecked, state says

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Shale gas drilling industry growth unchecked, state says

Dan Kelly

Reading Eagle, Pa.

A report issued Tuesday by the state auditor general’s office finds that the state Department of Environmental Protection was incapable of monitoring and regulating explosive growth in the shale gas industry.

The report found that the agency was caught off guard by how fast natural gas drillers spread out across the state, sinking wells sometimes in environmentally sensitive areas that required intense monitoring.

But DEP officials said the report studied well inspections, reporting and enforcement from Jan. 1, 2009, to Dec. 31, 2012, and does not reflect the current agency operation.

Nevertheless, critics of the Marcellus shale gas industry hailed the report as validating what the public has been complaining about all along.

“To date, no fracking has gone on in Berks County, but we worry about the downstream effects of fracking,” said Karen Feridun, founder of Berks Gas Truth, a nonprofit founded to monitor shale gas drilling in the county.

“It points to an agency that was not prepared for the shale gas boom,” Feridun said. “If they can’t handle fracking, something still in its infancy if the industry gets its way, then how will they handle the up to 100,000 wells and all the infrastructure needed to support it?”

DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo defended the agency and said his staff cooperated fully in the audit, agrees with some of the findings, but disagrees with some of the criticisms.

“As we’ve explained to the auditors, because the report focused on the time period up until the end of 2012, most of this audit reflects how our Oil and Gas Program formerly operated, not how the program currently functions,” Abruzzo said in a statement.

“Throughout the audit period until the present, DEP’s Oil and Gas Program has made great strides improving the effectiveness of its regulatory efforts and its transparency to the public,” Abruzzo said.

New measures were enacted in 2012 to aid enforcement, he said.

Among key findings in the report were that: DEP failed to order drillers to replace water supplies polluted by gas wells; replies to complainants were neither clear nor timely; a tracking system did not notify agency managers of complaints; DEP could not provide reliable assurance that all shale gas wells were inspected, and DEP did not adequately track shale gas waste.

Contact Dan Kelly: 610-371-5040 or dkelly@readingeagle.com.


First Published July 23, 2014 12:00 AM

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