HARRISBURG -- A report out Tuesday from the Pennsylvania Auditor General slams the Department of Environmental protection for how it's handled the natural gas industry.
The report found the DEP wasn't ready for the industry when it started drilling in the state and it's not ready now.
The auditor general said state environmental regulators need help. He said the DEP is understaffed and underfunded and that 150-plus page report on the state's handling of gas drilling points out eight ways the agency is coming up short in protecting the environment and the people of this Commonwealth.
From the time that natural gas companies started drilling in the Northern Tier and across the state, a new report claims the state agency that should be regulating the natural gas industry has come up short.
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale released the report at the State Capitol in Harrisburg after his agency looked into the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection between 2009 and 2012.
"DEP is underfunded, understaffed and inconsistent in how it approached shale gas development. For an analogy, internally we believe it's like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose," DePasquale said.
Among other things, the report claims the DEP didn't always hold gas drillers accountable for damage to water supplies, and that the DEP's complaint tracking system was lacking.
Sheila Ely and her family live in the Dimock area of Susquehanna County and have dealt with the DEP quite a bit in the past six years. Concern over a nearby natural gas well contaminating the Ely's drinking water well has led to what's in their shed, removing dangerous methane gas.
"How did DEP respond? They kept telling us there was nothing wrong with our water. It was just high in methane," Ely said.
Sheila and her nephew Scott Ely, who still has a lawsuit against Cabot Oil & Gas, believe the report accurately depicts the shortcomings of the DEP, especially when it comes to explaining the results of investigations into problems with their water they say were caused by the gas industry.
"Politics got in the way of taking care of the people. That's what they're supposed to be there for, the people," Scott Ely said.
The DEP disagreed with all eight findings in that auditor general's report.
A statement from the agency says it is already implementing many of the 30 or so recommendations made by the auditor general.
“For the past 16 months, we’ve cooperated fully with the Auditor General’s Office and we appreciate the professionalism shown by their staff,” DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo said in a press release. “As we’ve explained to the auditors, because the report focused on the time period up until the end of 2012, most of this audit reflects how our Oil and Gas Program formerly operated, not how the program currently functions.
Some environmental groups said Tuesday the report only supported their position over the past several years that the DEP has fallen short of its duty.
I am very encouraged by the Auditor General's clear sight and plain spoken sensible findings and recommendations - tracking complaints, violations, waste handling, among other things and website improvements so ordinary mortals can find material all point to the Auditor General being concerned about the people of PA - as the PA DEP should be, but seems to not be.
- Barbara Arrindell
Director, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability
Today's AG report is a much-needed validation of the message that RDA and many
other citizen's groups across the state have been proclaiming for several years.
Although our message has been vilified by many media sources, public office holders, and local Chamber of Commerce officials,
we have not wavered. This substantiation from AG DePasquale is most welcome.
- Barbara Jarmoska
Board of Directors, Responsible Drilling Alliance