Pennsylvania Handcuffs Marcellus Shale Drilling Inspectors

Under a new Republican governor, Pennsylvania is limiting the authority of oil and gas inspectors charged with monitoring drilling activities in the Marcellus Shale formation.

The Marcellus Shale is the site of expanding drilling activities to capture large reserves of natural gas that runs through Pennsylvania and NY State. A wide range of environmental groups have called for a halt to the hydraulic fracturing drilling process being used, which poses a threat to water supplies underground. 

The EPA is studying the safety of hydraulic fracturing, but Pennsylvania’s new governor is an outspoken supporter of increased drilling. The natural gas industry managed to get an exemption from regulation under the Clean Water Act.

According to ProPublica, staff members in the state’s Department of Environmental Protection last week received emails indicating that all future enforcement activities must now be cleared by political appointees in the agency.

ProPublica writes:

The memos require that each of the hundreds of enforcement actions taken routinely against oil and gas operators in Pennsylvania each month now be approved by the department’s executive deputy secretary, John Hines. The memos are raising concerns that the state’s environmental inspectors can no longer act independently and that regulations could be overridden by the political whims of the state’s new governor, Tom Corbett.

"What this apparently is saying is that before any final action, the inspector must get approval by two political appointees: the secretary and the deputy secretary," said John Hanger, who headed the DEP until January under former Gov. Ed Rendell and worked to strengthen the state’s oil and gas regulations. "It’s an extraordinary directive. It represents a break from how business has been done in the department within the Marcellus Shale and within the oil and gas program for probably 20 years.

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