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DEP: The Department That Regulates and Oversees Drilling

Background

Regulating natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation is one of many duties charged to the Department of Environmental Protection.  DEP is responsible for enforcing the state’s Oil and Gas Act, as well as state regulations on drinking water quality, air quality and the environmental health of rivers and streams.

The agency currently has a $135 million dollar state budget, with additional $215 million from the federal government. Its funding has steadily decreased over the last few budgets.

DEP divides the state into six regions, and operates 19 district offices.

Secretary Michael Krancer headed the department until April 2013. He now works for an influential Philadelphia law firm he worked for in the 1990′s. Krancer chairs Blank Rome’s Energy, Petrochemical and Natural Resources Practice.

StateImpact has reported that ethics filings show Blank Rome has given Governor Corbett and his wife, Susan over $15,000 in gifts since 2007.

Before his appointment, Krancer served as a judge on the state’s Environmental Hearing Board, which evaluates DEP rulings. He has also worked for Exelon, and two Philadelphia law firms. Krancer unsuccessfully ran for state Supreme Court in 2007. His father Ronald is a long-time supporter of Republican candidates, and donated $175,000 to Tom Corbett’s 2010 gubernatorial campaign.

The department’s Bureau of Oil and Gas Management employs about 80 well inspectors, who are funded through drilling permitting fees. DEP carried out about 5,000 inspections last year, and Krancer told the House Appropriations Committee the Department “[does] have enough ‘boots on the ground’ to get the job done,” but environmental critics argue the inspectors are underfunded and understaffed.

A proposed – but quickly scuttled – change in regulatory policy raised the ire of drilling opponents in early 2011. A leaked internal memo directed regional offices to forward notices of violation for drillers to the Harrisburg office for final approval. DEP officials quickly backtracked, calling the change a “pilot program,” and then scrapping it altogether.

Krancer has repeatedly dismissed environmentalists’ skepticism over the DEP’s willingness to regulate drillers. “We apply the law – that’s our job,” he told a Senate panel in early 2011.  Appearing on a WITF-TVcommunity forum in May 2011, he said, “I’m going to be an enforcement secretary. I want to leave that legacy. …We will enforce and we will come down hard when circumstances warrants us to do that. I’m dedicated to doing that.”

Chris Abruzzo took over as DEP secretary in April 2013.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Chris Abruzzo took over as DEP secretary in April 2013.

Following Krancer’s departure in April 2013, Governor Corbett named his deputy chief of staff, Christopher Abruzzo, as interim replacement. He was confirmed as secretary by the state senate in December 2013.

Abruzzo’s professional background is as a prosecutor. He’s worked under Corbett for many years, as deputy chief of staff in the Governor’s office and before that, in the drug enforcement section of the Attorney General’s office.

Abruzzo’s confirmation hearing attracted controversy, after he told a senate committee that although he believes in man-mad climate change, he does not view it as harmful.

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