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Pennsylvania DEP Looks to Strengthen Inspections, Compliance

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is restarting a process to improve statewide consistency in the way it conducts inspections of regulated entities, ensures compliance with state and federal laws, and handles enforcement cases, the agency said Tuesday.

What exactly that means for the oil and natural gas industry, if anything, is unclear. In a statement, DEP said the process is only beginning. Spokesman Neil Shader offered few details and said the initiative would mainly improve some administrative policies.

“This is about a more consistent approach to inspections, compliance and enforcement,” Shader said. “It is not about how many inspections we conduct.”

The DEP launched a "compliance monitoring initiative" in 2013 under former Republican Gov. Tom Corbett's administration to evaluate enforcement policies and strategies and update a 2004 internal policy on how the agency handles violations, DEP said. But this month, Secretary John Quigley, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf shortly after he took office in January 2015, "re-energized" the initiative, according to DEP's announcement (see Shale Daily, Jan. 14, 2015).

"The result of this process will be a general inspection, compliance and enforcement policy aimed at improving consistency for all our program specific policies," Quigley said in the release. "This foundation will help to ensure that our work across all programs is internally aligned, consistent and in compliance with state and federal regulatory requirements."

Quigley has ordered an internal review of DEP policies on inspections, compliance and enforcement. The agency said that review is expected to be completed by next month. It would be followed by a public notice and comment period over the summer to help enhance the agency's policies and reinforce both Wolf and Quigley's commitment to regulatory and governmental transparency.

While the DEP has continued to face criticism from some political and public spheres -- even under the current administration -- for its handling of oil and gas enforcement, the industry has been on the end of several initiatives aimed at strengthening regulatory enforcement and better protecting the environment since Wolf took office last year (see Shale Daily, Dec. 4, 2015).

A package of new conventional and unconventional oil and gas environmental regulations that were made stronger with Quigley's arrival are close to becoming law, with a final hearing set before the Independent Regulatory Review Commission this month (see Shale Daily, Jan. 6). The governor also signed an executive order reinstating a moratorium on oil and gas leases in state-owned parks and forests shortly after he took office early last year, and the administration has since unveiled a plan to reduce methane emissions in the state (see Shale Daily, Jan. 19; Jan. 29, 2015).

DEP's Office of Oil and Gas Management faces a $2.9 million deficit in fiscal 2016-2017, which begins in July, according to the state budget office (see Shale Daily, April 4). Quigley also has said the agency is short of staff. In March, he advocated for a general fund increase during state budget hearings and said an increase in oil and gas permitting fees could be needed to keep up with the workload (see Shale Daily, March 1).

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