Pa. Auditor to Review Wastewater from Shale Well Drilling
21 January 2013
By Don Hopey
Prompted by accidental spills and leaks from Marcellus Shale gas
development and the industry's waste disposal practices, new
Auditor General Eugene DePasquale will begin a review this week of
the state Department of Environmental Protection's water
regulation, testing and enforcement program.
Calling protection of the state's water resources, including
rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater, "one of the biggest issues
facing Pennsylvania," Mr. DePasquale said the performance audit
will cover the years 2009 through 2012 and take up to a year to
"Job creation and reducing our dependency on foreign energy
sources are good reasons to develop the gas in the Marcellus
Shale, but there are a lot of concerns, too," he said in a phone
interview Friday. "We need to make sure our water resources are
In a letter to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer last week, Mr.
DePasquale outlined the objectives of the audit, which include
determining the "adequacy and effectiveness of DEP's monitoring of
water quality as potentially impacted by shale gas development
activities, including but not limited to systems and procedures
for testing, screening, reporting and response to adverse impact
such as contamination."
DEP's water-testing program and state-run laboratory came under
fire last year by some rural residents and environmental groups
for producing inadequate and incomplete lab reports on drinking
water contamination complaints related to Marcellus Shale
Mr. DePasquale's letter said the audit also will review DEP's
performance in monitoring, testing and tracking the handling,
treatment and disposal of shale gas drilling waste.
In April 2011, the Corbett administration asked the drilling
industry to voluntarily stop disposing of drilling wastewater --
which was high in bromides, salts and other dissolved solids -- at
16 municipal sewage and commercial treatment plants that were
discharging into rivers and streams used as drinking water
"Those reports of problems certainly factored into [the audit],"
said Mr. DePasquale, who took office last week. "It's clear in the
state constitution that Pennsylvanians are entitled to clean
water. Previous industries -- coal mining, gas and oil -- didn't
get it right. We want to make sure, with this audit, to get it
Mr. DePasquale said the audit also will look at DEP's permitting
program for Marcellus Shale gas drilling operations, whether the
department regularly conducts follow-up inspections of all of
those facilities and has systems in place to monitor their
operations between inspections.
In a written statement released in response to questions about the
audit, Kevin Sunday, a DEP spokesman, touted DEP's role in
protecting the state's environment, including its streams and
rivers, as well as its "lawful regulation of all of our
"DEP is well-versed and experienced at protecting the state's
waters, and that is a priority for the Corbett administration, DEP
and all of its hard-working employees," Mr. Sunday wrote, noting a
variety of regulatory upgrades contained in Act 13, the state oil
and gas law supported by the Corbett administration and passed
"DEP looks forward to assisting and working with the Auditor
General and his staff to demonstrate how we are doing our job well
to protect our water resources."
John Hanger, who headed the DEP during the Rendell administration,
said the audit of the gas drilling regulation program is an
important use of the auditor general's authority and not
unprecedented. He said the DEP's dam safety program was audited
during his tenure as DEP secretary.
"The audit of the gas drilling regulatory program is a good idea.
People should get answers about the quality of water testing and
the effectiveness of DEP oversight of the gas industry," said Mr.
Hanger, who is an announced candidate for the Democratic
nomination for governor next year. "It's a vital function of DEP
to regulate the gas industry."
Mr. DePasquale, who had promised to undertake DEP audit during his
campaign for auditor general last year, characterized it as "a
constructive one whereby all entities work together to identify
any problems, concerns and solutions, as well as any positive
findings related to our audit objectives."
When the audit is completed, a final report will be made public,
Mr. DePasquale said. It will contain recommendations by the
auditor and DEP feedback and responses.
Don Hopey: email@example.com or 412-263-1983.