The Department of Environmental Protection’s (DEP) oversight and enforcement of gas drilling is so poor that it cannot adequately safeguard water supplies in the gas fields. That’s the stark finding of Auditor General Eugene DePasquale’s review of DEP’s performance monitoring drilling impacts to water quality.
The audit, which covers the years 2009 – 2012, found that:
- · DEP routinely ignores the law requiring it to issue administrative orders which compel drillers to either clean up contaminated water supplies or supply replacement water. Instead, they try to get drillers to privately deal directly with affected property owners to arrive at a solution. This allows drillers to avoid getting cited for a violation.
- · DEP does not provide people who complain about contaminated water with investigation reports. Many people who file complaints go for months without knowing whether or not or how badly their water is damaged.
- · DEP’s complaint tracking system cannot answer simple questions like how many complaints has the department received.
- · Because of an outdated and ambiguous inspection policy and chronic understaffing, DEP cannot ensure that shale gas wells are inspected in a timely manner.
- · DEP does not provide easy, well-organized access to information about shale gas drilling and provides no information about contamination of water.
- · DEP does not adequately track inspections. It does not post all the information required by law, and the data it does post has a high error rate. Most of the inspectors’ comments are not online.
- · DEP’s use of information technology is so badly managed and inconsistent that the audit determined it to be “not sufficiently reliable.”
DEP’s response is unsurprising and disappointing. It did not agree with any of the audit’s findings, although interestingly, it did agree in whole or part with most of the Auditor General’s 29 recommendations for improvement.
The key conclusion of the audit is, “DEP needs to be a stronger regulator and use its enforcement powers consistently.”
The Corbett administration’s DEP considers the gas drillers to be its first-class clients instead of a hazardous industrial activity that requires strict oversight and enforcement. People stuck with contaminated water end up in a bureaucratic hell where DEP treats them like second-class citizens.
The fastest way to change DEP attitude toward the drillers and ordinary citizens is to change administrations. That opportunity comes in November.