The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is developing a regulatory system to ensure more statewide consistency in the enforcement of its natural gas and oil drilling regulations, according to a statement released by the Department.
In the statement, DEP Secretary Michael Krancer said that since becoming secretary he’s been aware that oversight of oil and gas drilling was often inconsistent from region to region.
Krancer said his Office of Oil and Gas Management implemented a more detailed electronic inspection form for use in all three regions. The Office is also working to develop additional training for inspectors and water quality specialists.
"With these changes, we should now be able to more swiftly close out Notices of Violation as having been corrected or, as necessary, elevate them to a higher enforcement level," Krancer said.
A DEP report ordered by Krancer found that its water quality specialists performed 4,157 inspections of Marcellus Shale gas wells from Jan. 18 to June 24, the first five months of the Corbett administration. The team assembling the report found 633 violations.
According to the report, 269, or 9.86 percent, of the 2,727 inspections done in the north central region, which includes 45 counties in the eastern half of the state, found one or more violations. But in the 10-county southwest region, 38 of 1,101 inspections found violations, a rate of 3.45 percent. In the northwest, a 12-county region, 17 of 329 inspections resulted in violation findings, a 5.1 percent rate. .
"Our field staff does great work, but the review confirmed that there were inconsistencies among our regions in how DEP applied regulations and enforcement, and with how the violations were reported," Krancer said. "For example, we learned inspectors and water quality specialists in three regions were using three different inspection forms, resulting in inconsistent enforcement of our regulations."
On another front, the Department has begun to simplify the electronic data entry system used for violations, known as eFACTS, to compile a field manual for staff, and to provide staff with more standardized equipment. Plans are in the works to increase the number of compliance staff in each region's Office of Oil and Gas Management and to provide industry with additional compliance assistance information.
Another set of drilling rules, from the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC), was expected to be adopted Monday, November 21 in Trenton, New Jersey. But the meeting was postponed when members failed to agree on a regulatory scheme.
Governor Tom Corbett said he was disappointed in the decision to cancel the meeting.
"Pennsylvania is ready to move forward now," Corbett said. "The final regulatory package would ensure that natural gas is developed in a manner that protects our water resources and holds operators to the highest standards in the nation. It is the result of a nearly two-year regulatory process, which has previously been delayed to allow sufficient time to address remaining issues raised by members of the DRBC.‖
Corbett noted that the regulatory requirements of the DRBC would be in addition to those already required by Pennsylvania state law.
The DRBC, which monitors the drinking-water supply of 15 million people — including Philadelphia and half of New York City — has representatives from the federal government and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.