The good and bad: DEP must tell the full story on drilling’s impact

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In the same week that the Department of Environmental Protection was happy to report that air pollutants due to gas drilling dipped in 2012 despite more activity, testimony by a DEP official surfaced indicating that the agency typically does not record or publicly report certain violations on water fouled by gas well discharges.

These items may seem unrelated, but they have a critical nexus: the people’s right to know. And the people of Pennsylvania have a right to know from DEP both the good and the bad about Marcellus Shale drilling.

It was good news that, even with more gas exploration and processing, the emission of nitrogen oxides in the state slipped from 16,500 tons in 2011 to 16,400 tons the next year. But that positive announcement was tempered by a Post-Gazette report on a court brief containing sworn testimony from a DEP manager who said it was the “practice” of regulators not to issue a violation notice, fines or formal determinations when gas firms reach private settlements with well owners over water contamination.

After the DEP official’s testimony was given in January, the agency issued a series of written corrections and clarifications to it in March, saying that such information on water quality complaints is indeed available to the public. But that’s not what he said under oath. So which is it?

With an industry as promising and as controversial as fracturing shale for natural gas, Pennsylvanians deserve to know the whole story — the benefits and the risks, the energy tapped and the environment spoiled. The more transparent the regulatory process and reporting, the greater the public’s understanding of both the good and the bad.

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