PA DEP Reviews Its Shale Inspections

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
17 November 2011
By Don Hopey

State inspectors found 633 violations at Marcellus Shale drilling sites during the first five months of this year, and were almost three times more likely to find violations at drill sites in north central Pennsylvania than in the southwest, according to a Department of Environmental Protection report released Tuesday.

Improper storage, transportation, processing and disposal of Marcellus Shale drilling waste, along with poor erosion and sediment controls, were the leading categories, accounting for 162 of the violations. Only about 8 percent of inspections found violations, but that percentage varied significantly from region to region within the state.

The DEP said in a release that its goal in reviewing the inspection data was to improve inspection, enforcement and compliance consistency statewide.

"Our field staff does great work, but the review confirmed that there were inconsistencies among our regions in how DEP applied regulations and enforcement, and with how the violations were reported," said Michael Krancer, DEP secretary.

As a result of the review, the DEP said its Office of Oil and Gas Management is using a more detailed electronic inspection form in all three regions of the state where Marcellus Shale drilling is taking place and is developing additional training programs for inspectors.

The DEP report said its water quality specialists performed 4,157 inspections of Marcellus Shale gas wells from Jan. 18 to June 24, the first five months of the Corbett administration, and found 633 violations. But the department did not respond to requests to provide data to show whether the number or rate of violations has increased or declined compared to previous years.

According to the report, 269, or 9.86 percent, of the 2,727 inspections done in the north central region, which includes 45 counties in the eastern half of the state, found one or more violations. But in the 10-county southwest region, 38 of 1,101 inspections found violations, a rate of 3.45 percent. In the northwest, a 12-county region, 17 of 329 inspections resulted in violation findings, a 5.1 percent rate.

Only 29.5 percent of the violations were cleared or moved to an escalated enforcement action within a 14-day departmental deadline for such action.

The report also found that 64 percent of inspection reports were entered into the state's electronic database within seven days as required by state policy, and 64.5 percent of the 189 "notices of violations" met the 180-day deadline for closure, which is set to ensure that enforcement actions are taken within a reasonable time frame.

The DEP said it plans to increase inspection staff in each of its oil and gas management offices and provide industry with more compliance assistance.

Don Hopey: or 412-263-1983.