You can count us among those who were not surprised that a report from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale found considerable shortcomings in the way the state Department of Environmental Protection has handled its oversight of the Marcellus Shale gas-drilling industry.
Among other things, DePasquale found the DEP’s enforcement actions against industry operators are inconsistent and it has fallen short in making regular inspections of drilling sites.
According to a report Wednesday in this newspaper, the auditor general also found the DEP does a poor job in communicating with those who complain about drilling companies, has an “inefficient and ineffective” complaint tracking system, lacks a manifest system to track shale gas waste and operates a website that is short on transparency and information.
Gov. Tom Corbett, and by extension the DEP, are viewed by their critics as being extremely cozy with the gas industry. Corbett’s first campaign for the governor’s office was heavily supported by industry interests and backers, to the tune of more than $1 million. It seems fair to suggest that the industry has his ear.
Following the release of DePasquale’s report, the DEP issued a response with a disconnected-from-reality headline reading, “Auditor general performance report validates DEP’s work regarding unconventional gas drilling activities.”
We would hope the folks at the DEP will brush up on their reading comprehension skills and take DePasquale’s report to heart. The DEP says it’s doing a great job and has, in fact, already implemented many of the auditor general’s recommendations. However, if DePasquale is correct, the agency still has a long way to go.
The people of the commonwealth, especially those in high-impact areas such as Southwestern Pennsylvania, are reaping considerable benefits from the Marcellus Shale industry. But at the same time, the highest value must be placed on protecting our environment, especially our water supplies. Those considerations will far outlast the money created by drilling. We are all too familiar with the lasting ecological damage caused by the coal industry in our region in years past. We hope that lesson is not lost on those making policy in Harrisburg.