Taxpayer- and industry-funded review of DEP praises its oil and gas regulations | StateImpact Pennsylvania

Taxpayer- and industry-funded review of DEP praises its oil and gas regulations

A drilling rig in Bradford County.

Susan Phillips / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A drilling rig in Bradford County.

A review of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection’s oil and gas regulations has given the agency high marks.
This was the fifth such evaluation of the DEP, conducted by the nonprofit organization, STRONGER Inc. (State Review of Oil & Natural Gas Environmental Regulations).
“Pennsylvanians can be assured that DEP is protecting their health and environment while oil and gas operations continue to grow,” Secretary Chris Abruzzo said in a statement.
A team of six reviewers spent about five days examining the agency’s responses to a questionnaire about regulations and interviewing staff members at its Harrisburg headquarters.
The report praises the agency for its handling of the state’s recent natural gas boom:

The review team commends DEP for increasing its staff levels to address additional
permitting, inspection and enforcement activities related to increased unconventional gas
well development. Over the past four years, as unconventional gas well development has
increased in Pennsylvania, the Office of Oil and Gas Management has increased its staff
from 64 to 202 employees.

STRONGER’s only current staff member, James Erb, was the director of the DEP’s Oil and Gas Bureau from 1984 to 2004.
He helped found STRONGER in 1999. Since then, it’s conducted similar reviews in 22 states.
“I established the [DEP’s oil and gas] program back in the 1980’s,” says Erb. “It’s changed since I retired, with the Marcellus. I think they have a pretty good program in place.”
Erb now works as independent consultant for the American Petroleum Institute and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in addition to his job with STRONGER.
“I run the reviews and do the training sessions and run work groups that develop the guidelines,” he says.
While Erb is the facilitator for the evaluations, the reviewers for this report were a mix of two representatives each from environmental groups, government, and industry.
The current head of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management, Scott Perry, also serves as a STRONGER board member.
The reviews are voluntary and free for states. STRONGER is funded through grants from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy, as well as grants from the American Petroleum Institute.
Despite the overall high marks, the report did find areas the agency could improve, including making its websites more user-friendly and issuing violations more consistently:

The review team has determined that DEP has not historically used a consistent method
for issuing violations, making it difficult to evaluate compliance with regulations and DEP
performance over time.

The report also notes that although the agency has increased its staff significantly in recent years, “certain sections of DEP’s Oil and Gas Bureau remain understaffed.”

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