The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) released its latest report on Marcellus Shale inspections and violations, while its acting secretary defended recent enforcement policy changes.

According to the DEP, 156 inspections have been conducted at Marcellus Shale wells in the state during the first three months of 2011. Inspectors issued 314 notices of violation (NOV) during that time frame, amassing $3,500 in penalties, all of which have been paid in full.

Susquehanna County has the highest number of NOVs so far this year with 83. Rounding out the top five there were 67 NOVs in Lycoming County, 35 in Tioga County, 21 in Bradford County, and Clinton and Wyoming counties tied for fifth with 19 each. There was a nearly even split on the types of violations reported, with environmental issues on 169 NOVs (about 54%) and administrative matters comprising the remaining 145 NOVs (about 46%).

Just over half of the violations (51%) were issued to three companies. Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. had 51 NOVs, while Chief Oil & Gas LLC had 41 and Anadarko E&P Co. LP had 38.

“Cabot continues to work closely with DEP to ensure that our operations are meeting the standards set forth by the Commonwealth [of Pennsylvania],” Cabot spokesman George Stark told NGI’s Shale Daily on Tuesday.

The DEP appears on pace to issue about as many NOVs in 2011 as the previous year, when 642 inspections were conducted and inspectors issued 1,246 NOVs. Penalties totaled about $5.85 million, of which about $4.75 million has been collected.

Meanwhile, Michael Krancer, the DEP acting secretary, on Tuesday defended Marcellus Shale policy changes that were enacted at the end of March (see Shale Daily, April 1). The three-month “pilot project” aims to identify and correct inconsistencies in reporting violations and empowers Krancer to give final approval over inspectors’ activities.

“In order to be the groundwork for an enforcement action, [NOVs] need to be clear, they need to be precise, they need to be focused on important environmental matter, they need to be consistent,” said Krancer as quoted by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The policy changes have been criticized by former DEP Secretary John Hanger, environmental groups and Democratic lawmakers in the state. They assert that the changes unnecessarily delay corrective action at wells and undermine inspectors.

“Enforcement needs to be vigorous, not just in Marcellus Shale by the way,” Krancer said. “I do want [DEP regional offices] to do what they’ve always done, and that is to communicate with us in Harrisburg.”