After an 18-month audit, the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has been called “outdated, understaffed and underfunded” when it comes to monitoring the impact of Marcellus Shale drilling on water quality.
“For an analogy internally we believe it’s like firefighters trying to put out a five-alarm fire with a 20-foot garden hose,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.
The audit resulted in eight findings with 29 recommendations. DePasquale said 18 of the recommendations would not cost tax payers any more money.
The DEP disagrees with all eight findings and seven of the recommendations, saying that they were already required to make these changes by Act 13 of 2012.
“Because the audit focused on the time period up until the end of 2012, most of this audit reflects how our Oil and Gas Program formerly operated, not how the program currently functions,” said DEP Secretary E. Christopher Abruzzo.
The Auditor General focused on the “outdated” technologies of the DEP saying the Complaint Tracking System (CTS), which is where citizens can report problems with their water, was unable to generate accurate and consistent data.
The DEP said the system had numerous adjustments in July 2011 and 2012.
The Auditor General also called the system which reports findings to the website as required by law, E-Facts, to be ‘just horrible’.
DePasquale said that the department’s website lacked transparency and accountability, “the website is not there for technical jargon. It is there for members of the public, wither they’re involved in the industry, they’re environmental experts, or someone that is not involved in the field at all to be able to understand.”
He recommended an update of the technologies.
He also cited the DEP with having poor communication skills, saying that often the DEP did not give administrative orders to companies after water had been contaminated, as is required by law. “If you have a consistent violator, you want to have the ability to track that so you can hold them appropriately accountable down the line,” said DePasquale.
Abruzzo disagreed. He said in some instances it is not needed, because the operators had already remediated the affected water supplies without an order.
DePasquale also said the DEP failed to release information on investigation in the lawful time of 45 days. He also said that there is not a strong enough guideline on how often to investigate wells, which could be remedied by additional inspectors.
“We have a 25-year-old inspection policy. So we have this entirely new industry, and the inspection policy is based off of something 25 years old. That is an example though of something that I believe would cost literally zero money,” said DePasquale.
The DEP disagreed with this statement saying that from 2008 to 2012 the department increased unconventional well site inspections by over 10,000.
Abruzzo says that the more recent audit is from 2013 by the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environment Regulations Inc., which found the DEP to be “proficient.”