In a move that has drawn a chorus of outrage from environmental advocates, Pennsylvania’s gas drilling inspectors have been ordered to stop issuing violations against drillers without first gaining prior approval from secretary of the Dept. of Environmental Protection. The change was ordered last week in response to complaints by the drilling industry and its supporters in the Pennsylvania legislature, and will only affect drilling activity in the Marcellus Shale.
“I could not believe it,” said John Hanger, the last DEP secretary under Gov. Ed Rendell. “It’s extraordinarily unwise. It’s going to cause the public in droves to lose confidence in the inspection process.”
For decades, DEP inspectors in the field have had the authority to write violations on their own. Companies could appeal if they disagree with the findings. DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh said the policy was designed to make sure that all natural gas firms, regardless of where they were drilling, were treated the same by regulators. “It is a response to the many complaints the secretary has received from legislators and constituents,” she said. “They believe DEP is inconsistent, particularly when it comes to Marcellus Shale.” She also said that the Governor’s office did not order the policy shift, and that it did not mean the department was buckling to pressure from industry.