PITTSBURGH (AP) – Testimony in a lawsuit over shale gas drilling suggests Pennsylvania regulators don’t always publicly release records of pollution complaints.
The testimony shows that the state Department of Environmental Protection doesn’t always issue a violation notice or formal notice of contamination where shale gas energy companies reach private settlements with water well owners, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported Thursday. The lawsuit was filed by municipalities challenging the constitutionality of the state’s 2012 oil and gas law.
Lawyers for the municipalities claim that practice, which began during the administration of Gov. Ed Rendell and continues today, makes it impossible for the public to know where and when groundwater, wells and springs are contaminated because there is no publicly accessible record.
“This is all about transparency and the ability to protect water supplies,” said John Smith, one of four attorneys representing municipalities. “The DEP must provide citizens with information about the potential harm coming their way.”
Alan Eichler, the department’s oil and gas program manager, said in sworn testimony in January that the department “didn’t typically issue Notices of Violation” or assess fines when water contamination complaints were privately settled. The department later sent 64 “clarifications and corrections” to his testimony.
A department spokeswoman says non-criminal investigative records don’t have to be made public even upon conclusion of an investigation, according to the state Right to Know Law.