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Pennsylvania DEP Clarifies Protocol for Inspections

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) said its inspectors have always been allowed to issue notices of violation (NOV) to Marcellus Shale operators without requiring approval from top agency officials. The agency said it has issued its staff a clarification stating as much.

"There has been no change to anything," DEP spokeswoman Katy Gresh told NGI's Shale Daily on Tuesday. "The original communication about this needed to be clarified, and has been, to inspectors and staff and all regions of DEP. Central office simply wants notification and there's no need for approval."

Gresh characterized the dust-up between the DEP and its critics as centering over a "notification process," not a bonafide policy change, on the pre-approval of NOVs. That issue was one of several oil and gas industry matters described as part of a three-month "pilot project" at the DEP. Although never publicly announced by the agency, the pilot project came to light after media outlets published an internal e-mail outlining the changes, which required approval from two top agency deputies before ultimately advancing to DEP Secretary Michael Krancer (see Shale Daily, April 14; April 1).

Gov. Tom Corbett (R) also weighed in on the issue. In an April 27 letter to the state's chapter of the Sierra Club, Corbett said DEP inspectors would continue to be able to issue NOVs but added "it has been necessary to make minor adjustments to several internal processes to enhance effectiveness. However, none of these adjustments will prevent inspectors from making 'in-the-field' decisions and taking appropriate actions."

Jan Jarrett, president of Citizens for Pennsylvania's Future (PennFuture), told NGI's Shale Daily the environmental group supported the clarification.

"It's a wise course of action," Jarrett said Tuesday. "The case was strongly made that DEP inspectors really need the freedom to notice violations on the ground without having to wait for approval. It's really good to see the DEP has changed its position and decided to let the inspectors go ahead and do the job that they have always been able to do."

Jarrett added that PennFuture thought it was appropriate for inspectors' decisions to be reviewed by DEP management.

"There is a value in making sure that the rules and regulations are enforced consistently across the state, and we support that," Jarrett said. "But we didn't think the violations needed to be approved before they could issue them. It looks like after some consideration, and maybe looking over the things that they were getting in from the field, they decided to make the same decision."

Last week PennFuture filed three requests under the state's right to know law, asking the DEP to explain its policy of requiring pre-approval of NOVs (see Shale Daily, April 29). Jarrett said Tuesday that her group has since received a letter from the DEP saying the agency would need an additional 30 days to respond to the requests.

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