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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

DePasquale: DEP Unprepared for Shale Boom

HARRISBURG - Auditor General Eugene DePasquale today said that a recent audit shows that the meteoric growth of the shale gas industry caught the Department of Environmental Protection unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.

"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, "DePasquale said. "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."

The audit covered the period of 2009 through 2012 and was launched by DePasquale in January 2013 immediately after he became auditor general. The audit's purpose was to assess DEP's ability to protect the water quality in the wake of greatly escalated shale gas well drilling.

The audit revealed that DEP failed to consistently issue official orders to well operators who had been determined by DEP to have adversely impacted water supplies. After reviewing a selection of 15 complaint files for confirmed water supply impact, auditors discovered that DEP issued just one order to a well operator to restore or replace the adversely impacted water supply.

DEP claims that in many cases such orders are procedurally unnecessary as well operators may have already taken steps to restore the water supply under what the agency terms "voluntary compliance."

"When DEP does not take a formal, documented action against a well operator who has contaminated a water supply, the agency loses credibility as a regulator and is not fully accountable to the public," DePasquale said. "When DEP has enforcement authority under the law it must exercise that authority routinely, consistently, and transparently. Those gas well operators whose actions cause harm to water supplies should not get an enforcement 'pass' just because they have convinced DEP that they will come into compliance with the law or that they negotiated a settlement with the property owner."

For more on this story go to http://www.auditorgen.state.pa.us/

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