Thursday, September 25, 2014

Auditor General Releases Citizen’s Guide To Drilling-Related Water Complaints

As a follow-up to a recently released audit that was critical of the Department of Environmental Protection’s oversight of shale gas development and response to citizen complaints, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale Thursday released a 4-page “Citizen’s Guide to Shale Gas Development and Water Quality Complaints.”
“The guide should help people understand what information is available to them and what they should do if they notice changes in the quality of their water,” DePasquale said. “The content for the guide was developed by our audit staff based upon what they learned while trying to navigate the DEP’s administrative and regulatory processes and website. However, this guide can be helpful to everyone — not just people in areas where shale gas development is underway.”
The audit, which was released in July, showed that shale gas drilling boom caught the DEP unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints.
Auditors reported that DEP did a poor job in communicating its investigation results to citizens who registered complaints with the department.  The agency was not always timely in meeting statutory timeframes for response to complaints it did receive.
The audit also revealed that DEP failed to consistently issue official orders to well operators who had been determined by DEP to have adversely impacted water supplies.
In addition, the audit report noted that DEP does not post to its website all statutorily required inspection information. When the data was tested for accuracy, the auditors found errors of more than 25 percent in key data fields, and that as many as 76 percent of inspectors’ comments were omitted from the online inspection reporting.
Auditors also noted that DEP’s complaint tracking system, which is used to monitor all environmental complaints, including those that are oil and gas related, was ineffective as it did not provide management with reliable information to effectively manage the program.
Topics covered in the citizen’s guide include:
-- Allowing a gas well operator to test water;
-- DEP’s responsibilities concerning potential impacts to water quality from shale gas drilling;
-- How to keep informed about drilling operations;
-- Changes to look for in water quality; and
-- What to do and who to contact if water contamination is suspected.
The “Citizen’s Guide to Shale Gas Development and Water Quality Complaints” is available online.

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