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Legislation Would Prevent Surveillance by Pennsylvania DEP

A Pennsylvania lawmaker has introduced a pair of bills designed to prevent the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) from using unmarked vehicles and video surveillance at oil and gas work sites.

The first bill introduced by Sen. Scott Hutchinson (R-Oil City), SB 1119, would amend the state's Oil and Gas Act by requiring vehicles used by the DEP "for the conduct of inspections or other field work...[to] have a sign or sticker identifying the vehicle as a department vehicle. The sign or sticker shall be in a conspicuous location and shall clearly identify the department vehicle."

Hutchinson's second bill, SB 1174, would amend the state's Environmental Resources Act. The bill would expressly prohibit the DEP "from using remote surveillance by means of recorded photographic or video images to conduct investigations to determine compliance with environmental statutes."

Hutchinson's district includes all of Clarion and Forest counties, and parts of Butler and Warren counties, which are prospective to the Marcellus, Utica and Upper Devonian shales (see Shale Daily, Oct. 2).

“We are aware that DEP does use technology to watch [oil and gas] operations,” Hutchinson told NGI’s Shale Daily Wednesday. “I think there’s a general concern in our society about government -- ‘spying’ is a strong word -- but using new technological means to watch what people are doing 24/7/365, and what can be done with that information. I just wanted to clarify that that’s not an appropriate thing for DEP to do.”

Asked if he was concerned that the DEP could one day put cameras at drilling sites, Hutchinson said, “It is not prohibited today, and they do own cameras.”

DEP spokeswoman Amanda Witman said the department uses surveillance equipment, specifically cameras.

"Those cameras are utilized by our Bureau of Investigations," Witman said Wednesday. "Those investigations run the gamut as far as the types of environmental issues -- they could be for illegal dumping or something related to oil and gas -- but we really can't share much more information about that without threatening the integrity of what they do."

Witman added that the DEP uses dozens of vehicles for inspections but has recently stopped branding -- or "wrapping" -- them because of the expense.

"When you have to put a wrap on a vehicle, it becomes very expensive," Witman said. "Not only are we paying a lot money when we buy the vehicle, but we're paying a lot of money again when we try to take the wrap off or sell the vehicle when it's still wrapped. It has a major loss in value.

"But we do have magnetic logo markings that we can put on our vehicles when necessary. It's a much more cost efficient backup than branding each and every one of our vehicles."

Both bills were referred to the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee -- SB 1119 on Oct. 7, and SB 1174 on Nov. 15.

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