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DEP plans new fracking chemical disclosure site, promises more transparency

John Quigley was confirmed as DEP secretary Wednesday.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Newly confirmed DEP Secretary John Quigley wants to make the agency more transparent, with data easily accessible.

Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection is developing several tools to make information on natural gas drilling more accessible to the public. This includes a new fracking chemical disclosure site, a web portal for information on each natural gas well, and opportunities for the public to comment on proposed DEP policies.

DEP Secretary John Quigley says the effort is part of the Wolf administration’s commitment to “collaboration, transparency and integrity.” He spoke Wednesday night at the annual dinner of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in Philadelphia.

“Our department first has a commitment to collaboration, second it will be driven by science, and third we will show the work,” Quigley said.

The remarks signal a change in tone at the environmental agency, which under Corbett was criticized by some residents and environmentalists as opaque and inaccessible.

The state’s gas drilling law, Act 13, requires producers to post a list of chemicals used to frack each well on the disclosure website FracFocus. But until recently, posted individual PDF documents for each well, making it difficult to organize the data in a searchable manner. The law directs DEP to find or create an alternative if the FracFocus site was not searchable by January 1, 2013. FracFocus did upgrade its site last month, creating a method for users to download the data into searchable databases.

Act 13 also requires gas producers submit to DEP detailed chemical information through the well completion reports 60 days after a well is fracked.

Quigley told StateImpact that agency staffers have been working to clean up the data and share it on a site that would be more user-friendly.

“We want to make it searchable and easily accessible to the public, so our [information technology] shop has been working on an alternative that we’re hoping will advance the ball.”

He says DEP’s data management has suffered from years of budget cuts but that the agency is working on a strategic plan to upgrade data collection and presentation. The plan is to create a website where information on every well would be available at the click of a button.

“We are working through a process in the IT department to scrub the data, to establish protocols for how frequently we update that data, and then to make it available on a website,” he said. “You click on a well site and then you get the entire history, the production history and the enforcement history. All of the reports that companies have to submit to the agency. We would like to present all of our data to the public in a transparent accessible way.”

DEP will be posting every new policy online, and seek public comment.

Quigley also spoke about the Wolf administration’s commitment to balancing resource development with environmental protection.

“That work is daunting, difficult and at times delicate, but it’s doable,” he said

In his speech at the PEC dinner, which was attended by environmentalists, regulators, industry representatives, and attorneys, Quigley emphasized DEP’s new stance on climate change, which under the Corbett Administration had become mired in the politics of climate change denial.

Although a 2008 law requires DEP to publish two reports on climate change in the state, the Corbett administration failed to make the publication deadline by a year. During an appropriations hearing in February 2013, former head of the DEP Michael Krancer publicly questioned climate science. And when the department’s policy office attempted to suppress peer reviewed research, the staffer charged with overseeing the climate change reports resigned out of frustration. In December 2013, Governor Corbett’s nominee to replace Krancer at DEP said in his confirmation hearing he was not aware climate change can cause harm.

Quigley’s comments put the agency back in line with mainstream science. He said DEP is committed to reducing carbon emissions in the state and preparing for the impacts of what he calls “climate disruption.”

“We as an agency are going to be driven by science,” said Quigley. “And I want to say very emphatically, first and fundamentally, that we take the science and the threat of climate disruption seriously. And we will reassert state government’s leadership role in reducing our emissions and adapting to the changes we’ve locked in from history’s largest uncontrolled chemical experiment; the carbonization of our atmosphere.”

Quigley says the agency also plans to work with the Fish and Boat Commission on the health of the Susquehanna river, and “re-engage” on improving the health of the Chesapeake Bay.

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