Energy. Environment. Economy.

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.”




  • NorthernTier

    From the STRONGER report:
    “The review team recommends that DEP maintain consistent standardized data for tracking violations and enforcement actions to facilitate accurate internal DEP performance evaluation and to provide accurate information to the public. …”

    I interpreted this as addressing situations such as this one reported by StateInpact/Pennsylvania:
    “DEP’s Fracking Record-Keeping Blocks Transparency”

  • Julieann Wozniak

    PADEP is pretty lax in its enforcement, so naturally the industry just loves this. I’m a taxpayer and I think PADEP is literally letting polluters get away with murder.

  • Celia Janosik

    Answering questionnaires proves nothing. Go to the wells and check the cement pouring and type of cement used. Check the content of frack waste water trucks and follow everyone to see where it is disposed of? Check the air half a mile from the drilling site, the condensate tanks, compressor stations and cyrogenic plants, down wind of course. Then tell me Dep is doing a good job.

  • Maggie Henry

    OH, PLEASE….. more koolaide for the masses! Who are these 6 reviewers? the 2 quoted in the article are either current or former DEP employees, both sit on the STRONGER board. One of them works as independent consultant for the American Petroleum Institute (which funds STRONGER) and the Independent Petroleum Association of America, in addition to his job with STRONGER and the other is the current head of the DEP’s Office of Oil and Gas Management. Is this the fox guarding the hen house yet again? I would be ROTFLMAO if there was anything the slightest bit funny about this. Instead I am writhing on the floor in agony that State Impact would publish such bovine excrement! Really?!?

  • NorthernTier

    The Stronger Team members (6) were from TRRC, Ohio DNR, Earthworks, Trout Unlimited, Shell, and CNX. The official observers (4) were from Deleware Riverkeeper Network, Dept. of Energy, IPAA, and EPA.

    The report is 200+ pages and includes the (lengthy) questionnaire with the PA DEP’s responses. I haven’t even paged through the whole thing. But I did find that the DEP was less than candid in answers to (some) questions that asked if the information requested was publicly available. Whether one agrees with the findings or not, there is a wealth of information in the report.

  • Victoria Switzer

    Rewarding bad behavior does not seem like an effective way to protect the environment…

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