State's Expedited Permits for Gas Drilling Appealed

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
9 September 2009
By Don Hopey

The Chesapeake Bay Foundation has challenged the state's new expedited permitting process for Marcellus Shale gas wells that it says fails to police drilling and doesn't protect streams from erosion and sedimentation runoff.

The foundation filed an appeal today with the state's Environmental Hearing Board of permits granted without technical or field review to Fortuna Energy Inc. to drill in the Tioga State Forest in Tioga County by the state Department of Environmental Protection.

Last week, the foundation filed Environmental Hearing Board appeals of two other DEP permits granted for wells on private land in Tioga County.

All of the permits were granted by the DEP since April when the department stripped County Conservation Districts of the authority to review gas well drilling erosion and sedimentation plans and instituted an expedited permitting process that requires only an administrative review to determine if all paperwork has been submitted.

"The DEP is rubber-stamping permit applications without any independent environmental review," said Matt Royer, Chesapeake Bay Foundation attorney. "And it's putting Pennsylvania's precious waters and streams at risk."

He said the Tioga County Conservation District had approved an erosion and sedimentation plan for earth disturbance caused by construction of a single eight-acre well pad after doing field surveys of wetlands and stormwater runoff conditions in the state forest.

But in recent months the DEP has approved 13 amendments to that permit, including nine for additional well pads and three for impoundments for drilling waste water that authorized clearing 105 acres of timberland without conducting any technical reviews of the plans or their cumulative effects on the forest or nearby streams.

Teresa Tandori, a DEP spokeswoman, said that the department doesn't comment on legal appeals.