The idea that the state Department of Environmental Protection, under the Corbett administration, works primarily for the benefit of the people of Pennsylvania took another hit last week when it became clear that the DEP has no interest in hearing the questions and comments of those who live near the Worstell impoundment in Cecil Township.
The impoundment, for those who haven’t been following the story, is operated by Range Resources and has been a point of contention since the first of this year, when township officials wrote to the DEP to allege that the company failed to obtain proper approvals for the original use and construction of the impoundment, which is a repository for gas-drilling wastewater.
Some township officials say that even though drilling of wells has been completed near the site of the impoundment, trucks continue to bring in fracking water from other locations. Andy Schrader, vice chairman of the township supervisors, says a counter on the road indicates that a truck is coming into or out of the impoundment every 18 minutes. Yet Range has indicated that the site is used sparingly.
One would think that six months would be more than enough time to get to the bottom of this, to satisfy the concerns of township officials and answer the questions of those who live near the operation. One would be wrong.
Initially, there was a move by some supervisors to have a private meeting with the DEP about the Worstell site and other drilling-related matters, but when word of that proposed behind-closed-doors gathering created a backlash, the session was scrapped and there was hope that a public meeting would result. But the DEP is now making it crystal clear that it has no interest in an open discussion of the issues.
The agency says it will instead have a “conference” with township supervisors, select “officials,” and, according to Schrader, “other guests that have a direct interest.” We would assume that residents of the township who have environmental, traffic and other concerns related to Worstell would have a “direct interest.” The DEP, clearly, does not.
A spokesman for the agency, John Poister, told the Observer-Reporter that the session with folks in Cecil Township was never intended to be public, at least as far at the DEP is concerned. And according to Poister, the guest list for the gathering will be even more restrictive than Schrader apparently was led to believe.
“We aren’t calling it a meeting,” Poister said. “It’s a conference, and it will be limited to our oil and gas people, a representative from our legal office, the supervisors from Cecil, the township manager and their solicitor.”
Why couldn’t more people attend? Why can’t all of those who have an interest in this situation come to have their questions addressed? Poister says it’s a lack of space at DEP offices. Really? We guess that having the session in a local fire hall or high school auditorium just never occurred to the folks at the DEP. Poister said they didn’t want to “get into a situation” where some people were being included and others excluded.
So the answer, from the DEP’s perspective, was not to find a bigger venue. It was to kick everyone out. The message to neighbors of the Worstell impoundment is clear. And that message is, “Get lost.”
Having a “conference” with township officials is legal under the state’s Sunshine Act, but it’s clearly an end around by the DEP.
The agency is supposed to work for the public, but in this case the Corbett DEP clearly wants the public to have as little participation and information as possible. Gas-drilling interests spent a lot of money to get Corbett elected. Their interests are certainly not being ignored.