For the first time since the Department of Environment Protection took over review of erosion, sediment, and stormwater control plans for natural gas drilling sites, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is challenging two permits in Tioga County contending violations of both Commonwealth and federal laws.
Not only did DEP strip review authority from local County Conservation Districts in April, but it instituted an expedited stormwater permitting process that does not allow for public participation or meaningful agency review of permit applications.
In fact, the Ultra permit was issued within two days of receipt of the application. Phase II of the Fortuna permit, the one with the Exceptional Value wetlands issue, was issued within three business days.
“Instead of protecting the environment, DEP is rubber stamping permit applications without any formal review,” said CBF’s Pennsylvania Executive Director Matt Ehrhart. “Wild trout streams and their tributaries, and exceptional value wetlands that should receive extra protection under the law are at risk due to the lack of thorough DEP oversight.”
CBF is challenging permits issued to Fortuna Energy, Inc. authorizing earth disturbance for pipeline construction in Jackson Township, and to Ultra Resources, Inc. authorizing earth disturbance for substantial drilling operations in Gaines and Elk townships.
The Fortuna pipeline will cross tributaries of wild trout streams and impact exceptional value wetlands in violation of Pennsylvania wetlands law. The Ultra project will include pipeline crossings of high quality trout streams within the Pine Creek watershed, home to the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon and one of the state’s premier outdoor recreation destinations. For both projects, there was no analysis of the rate or volume of stormwater runoff from the construction, which can pollute streams.
“That these permits were issued without technical review and an analysis of the damage caused by construction and post-construction runoff violates both the federal Clean Water Act and Pennsylvania law,” said CBF Pennsylvania Staff Attorney Matthew Royer. “Conservation Districts have the local knowledge and experience to review the permits and manage the program. What we see here is a clear failure by DEP to meet fundamental permit review obligations. DEP should restore authority to the Conservation Districts."
The appeals will be heard by the Pennsylvania Environmental Hearing Board.
“Gas drilling will bring some level of environmental damage, as well as damage to roads and bridges,” Royer said. “That damage must be minimized through wise application of environmental regulations. It also underscores the need for a severance tax on drilling so that the state can fund mitigation projects to offset damages.”