Room for Pa. oil, gas oversight to improve

October 1, 2013

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Pennsylvania’s oil and gas drilling regulations are well-managed overall, but several key areas could be improved, according to a review released Monday by a group financed by the federal government and industry organizations.

A six-person team from the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations, Inc., found that state regulations generally meet or exceed a basic set of national guidelines.

But the review also said that water protection standards could be improved, that some oversight programs still don’t have enough staff to deal with the recent boom in shale gas drilling, and that public information isn’t presented in a user-friendly way online.

“This review demonstrates that the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania is matched by world-class oil and gas management and regulations,” said Department of Environmental Protection Acting Secretary Chris Abruzzo, adding that the agency will work to implement the recommendations of the report.

One member of the team — made up of two regulators from other states, two representatives from environmental groups, two industry representatives, and outside observers — said the public should be aware that it was a technical review of existing rules, not a list of everything needed to regulate the industry.

Katy Dunlap, an Eastern water project director for Trout Unlimited, said DEP should be commended for strengthening some regulations in response to the shale gas drilling boom, but that there are still areas where they can be improved.

“It’s absolutely a Trout Unlimited concern,” Dunlap said of the areas that need work.

For example, the review found that while regulatory staff increased from 64 to 202 employees over the last four years, some areas remain understaffed. DEP said that they expect to be able to hire more oil and gas regulators starting in 2014.

The reviewers also found room for improvement in two areas critical to protecting groundwater from pollution. They said DEP data on drilling-related violations and fines aren’t recorded in a consistent manner, making it hard to track compliance over time.

DEP also doesn’t have a consistent method to determine the depth of steel well casing, which is designed to protect groundwater, nor does it give exact guidance on pre-drill water tests. The experts also suggested DEP needs to finish a review of how the naturally occurring radioactive material that comes out of wells is disposed of.

“The DEP should be quite pleased with the result,” said Andrew Paterson, a technical and regulatory vice president with the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Tracy Carluccio, a member of the Delaware Riverkeeper organization, said the process was “very educational” but not tough enough.

“I think the report pointed out serious failings in the DEP regulations,” Carluccio said. “They do not have a definition for fresh groundwater. I think this is a damning point.”



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