Two Former Secretaries Weigh In On Reported DEP Shakeup

  • Scott Detrow

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A Tioga County drilling rig.

Earlier today, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on a major shakeup at the Department of Environmental Protection: going forward, according to the article, DEP’s Oil and Gas Program will operate as a separate bureau, within the department. The new organization will report to Harrisburg, not DEP’s six regional offices, mirroring the Mining Bureau’s semi-autonomy.
We’re still waiting for independent confirmation from DEP on the news. In the meantime, two former department secretaries are reacting to the initial report with varying degrees of optimism.
“I think anything the department does to improve communications and highlight [Marcellus Shale drilling] is a vast improvement,” said Dave Hess, who ran DEP during the Schweiker Administration. Hess served on Governor Corbett’s DEP environmental transition team, and concluded “things were very messed up inside the department, related to oil and gas,” during the Rendell Administration.

Why’s that? “Programs were not talking to each other,” Hess explained. “Oil and Gas was not talking to Water, and vice versa.”
John Hanger, who ran DEP during the last two years of the Rendell Administration, was more cautious. “The idea of having the Oil and Gas Program become standalone is potentially a good idea,” he said, as long as it meets two criteria. “First, it’s important people in the state have access to the program.” He worried the centralized structure could isolate Oil and Gas employees from DEP’s regional structure. Those six regional offices, he said, “are an attempt to make sure both the companies regulated by DEP and the neighbors and citizens that live in the region that need rules enforced” are able to easily contact regulators.
Hanger’s second concern: the size of the possible layoffs. “Regardless of what kind of organizational boxes people are put in, it’s very important that the staffing numbers” are kept stable, he said. Hanger oversaw a substantial increase in the number of DEP drilling inspectors, increasing the program’s staff from 88 to 202 people, during his two years on the job. “Our goal was to grow the Oil and Gas Program with the industry, so that as the industry became bigger the Oil and Gas oversight staff became bigger.”
We’ll have another post as soon as we receive more details from DEP.

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