Thursday, October 29, 2015

Op-Ed: Despite Shale Series, PA Is Protecting Your Air And Water

By John Quigley, Secretary, Department of Environmental Protection

The following is an op-ed by DEP Secretary John Quigley in response to a series published last week in by PennLive/The Patriot News regarding the regulation of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.
When Patriot-News reporters started asking for data sets and requesting interviews with staff of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), we were proud to provide information about the work of our agency. Governor Wolf prioritized transparency and integrity in my January interview for the cabinet post, and it remains a hallmark of his administration.
Unconventional natural gas development presents both challenges and opportunities for Pennsylvania. It’s our challenge to ensure that industry accesses this resource in ways that protect our citizens and our environment while feeding the energy needs of citizens and business in the Commonwealth and beyond. And it’s our opportunity to take full economic advantage of this immense energy resource while ensuring that the extraction and transmission of it is done responsibly.
This past week, The Patriot-News/ published a series of stories on the issues surrounding the development of Pennsylvania's Marcellus shale deposits. It’s an important subject for every Pennsylvanian to understand because the technology only came of age a decade ago and has taken off.
Since 2008, Pennsylvania's natural gas production has increased dramatically, and Pennsylvania has become the second-largest supplier of natural gas in the nation.
Every Pennsylvanian should have access to accurate information about the industry, and about the agencies that regulate that industry.
But we do not feel that this recent series accurately reflected the full picture of tremendous work and effort of DEP over the past year and beyond to improve our efforts to protect the environment.
We welcome the scrutiny of this agency, but the hard-working women and men of DEP deserve to have the whole story be told.
In this administration, we strive to continually improve our performance in protecting Pennsylvania's air, land, water, and public health.
I not only agree with feedback aimed to ensure that we uphold our mission daily, and through the work of each agency employee, I encourage it.
Beyond the list of inaccuracies in this series of stories, though, there's something important missing.
For instance, we have been working hard since December 2013 to modernize the regulations under which this industry operates, and implement Act 13 of 2012.
Since the initial release of a draft rulemaking to amend The Pennsylvania Code (specifically, Chapter 78: Oil and Gas Wells under Title 25: Environmental Protection) in December 2013, we've taken in almost 30,000 public comments. Many came during the 12 public hearings we held on this subject, or were delivered to us online or by mail.
This was an unprecedented expression of the public's interest in this matter, and we've considered every one of those comments.
We've used the public comments, as well as our years of experience with the industry, to propose changes that will have a lasting impact on Pennsylvania's people, environment, and energy economy, and that I believe are balanced, incremental and appropriate for activities we oversee within the Oil and Gas Program.
In another example of how far DEP is going to ensure the public is heard, we are in the midst of a 14-stop listening tour to get input on a Clean Power Plan that fits Pennsylvania.
Tracking the thousands of wells that have been drilled during the shale boom is a daunting task.
Add in the other information that the public needs -- like the chemicals used, the source of the water for the hydraulic fracturing, and information about any violations or accidents that have occurred at a well site -- and the result is a literal mountain of paper.
One of the key goals of DEP under my leadership is to make that information more transparent and accessible.
This is not a quickly accomplished task, nor is it an easy one. DEP is an agency still transitioning from paper records and 1990s technology at best to fully digital and searchable archives.
When the transition is complete, Pennsylvanians will have easy access to everything about the wells in the state, from the day they are started to the day they are plugged.
That modernization takes funding. The series didn't note that Governor Wolf inherited a decimated DEP budget. DEP lost 14 percent of its staff complement over the last 10 years, well over twice the state government average.
Another sign that this administration is committed to improving protection is that the Governor proposed a budget that provides a more than 5 percent increase over DEP's current budget to improve enforcement of Pennsylvania's environmental laws.
I fundamentally disagree most with the Patriot-News' characterization that the industry "has largely skated through the halls of power for a decade with no one there to say 'No.'"
This agency, and in particular, this administration, knows full well its responsibility to protect Pennsylvania's air, land and water from pollution and to provide for the health and safety of its citizens through a cleaner environment. And we work hard to fulfill that responsibility every day.
Environmental Agencies Feel Pinch Of Budget Impasse

(Reprinted from the Oct. 29 DEP News. Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)

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