New Pa. Auditor Will Probe Impact Of Fracking, DEP Regs

Source: Law360, January 16, 2013
By: Matt Fair

Minutes after he was sworn in as the state’s new auditor general on Tuesday, Eugene DePasquale said his office would undertake a sweeping investigation into potential water pollution resulting from the hydraulic fracturing boom in the state’s Marcellus Shale region.

DePasquale, a former Democratic legislator in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, told supporters during his inaugural address that one of his first actions would be to launch an inquiry into the Department of Environmental Protection’s protocols for monitoring pollution generated by gas drillers in the state.

“Today it is clear: We must strive to grow our economy and protect our environment at the same time,” DePasquale, a former DEP staffer, told a group of supporters in the state museum after his swearing-in. “That is why one of my first official duties as auditor general will be to initiate a performance audit of the [DEP] to make sure our constitutional right to pure water is not being compromised by natural gas drilling.”

While recognizing the immense economic potential of natural gas drilling, he said that he wanted to ensure that Pennsylvania’s waterways don’t suffer the same fate they saw as a result of the state’s coal boom.

“While natural gas drilling has brought new opportunities to small towns and rural communities throughout the state, that same drilling poses challenges to our environmental regulators, our local communities and our natural resources,” he said. “At the same time, we cannot forget mistakes made in the past. Our Pennsylvania waterways are still suffering — despite billions of dollars in cleanup — from inadequate oversight of the coal industry in previous generations.”

Shortly after the speech, DePasquale sent a letter to DEP Secretary Mike Krancer on Tuesday informing him of his plans.

According to DePasquale’s letter, the audit will focus on determining the adequacy and effectiveness of DEP’s water quality monitoring protocols and the potential impact that fracking and other shale gas development activities have had on the state’s rivers, lakes, and streams. The audit will also measure DEP’s monitoring of the handling, treatment and disposal of fracking-related waste.

The audit would cover DEP activity undertaken between 2009 through the end of 2012, covering a period both before and after the state’s comprehensive fracking regulations, known as Act 13, went into effect.

Reached Wednesday, a DEP spokesman defended the department’s working regulating the environmental impact of industries in the state.

“Pennsylvania is a national leader in protecting our environment and ensuring that our natural resources are developed responsibly,” spokesman Kevin Sunday said. “DEP’s more than 2,600 men and women work hard at protecting Pennsylvania’s environment and providing sound, fact-based, lawful regulation of all of our job-producing industries … 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.”

He pointed out that under Gov. Tom Corbett, the DEP had issued the single largest environmental penalty in the state’s history: nearly $1.1 million levied against Chesapeake Energy Corp. for contaminating private water supplies in Bradford County.

DePasquale takes over as auditor general from fellow Democrat Jack Wagner, who had held the position since 2005. Wagner opted not to seek re-election last year. DePasquale defeated Republican challenger John Maher in November, winning more than 2.7 million votes to Maher’s 2.5 million.

DePasquale was one of three Democrats sworn in as statewide row officers on Wednesday. Kathleen Kane was inaugurated as the first Democrat and first woman to be elected to the state’s Office of Attorney General. Rob McCord, meanwhile, took the oath for his second term as state treasurer.

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