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DEP oversight of the Marcellus Shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania

By John Hahn
March 17, 2011

Out of curiosity, and because I had not seen any recent media reports about it, I recently contacted the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and requested a list of violations and fines during 2010 regarding the gas industry in the Marcellus Shale area of Pennsylvania. It turns out there were a total of 729 violations and only 126 fines levied, totaling $2,537,368. I was somewhat disappointed that there was such disparity between the violations and the actual number of fines levied. I don’t know if this money is retained by the DEP, or if it goes into the general fund of the state coffers.

Looking at the details, it appears that one of the main industry players, Cabot, was fined in December for $500,000 and back in April for $240,000 for “discharge of pollutional material to water of Commonwealth.” EOG Resources was fined in May for $353,419 for “stream discharge of industrial waste includes drill cuttings, oil, brine and/or salt.” In December, XTO Energy was fined $150,000 for “no E & S inspection log available on site.” The list of other companies goes on for 90 pages.

With the number of new wells coming on line daily, and with an expected 10,000 to 20,000 wells in the next three to five years, I am greatly concerned that with its present staffing, the DEP will not be able to keep up with the oversight of the gas companies. In Governor Tom Corbett’s budget speech on Tuesday, there was no mention of increasing the number of DEP inspectors as the number of wells increase, especially now that he has declared, “Let’s make Pennsylvania the Texas of the natural gas boom.”

It appears that Corbett is solidly entrenched in the pockets of the gas companies for at least the next four years. In addition, he clearly stated, “There will be no severance tax on natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale formation.” What a lost opportunity to help fix the budget deficit. It’s the common people who are the losers in Pennsylvania, at the hands of big business.

The irony of this whole thing is that in the end we will not be energy independent because the gas companies are selling out to the Chinese, French, Norwegians and whoever will offer the most money for these gas leases. So we won’t really own all this gas, because it will be shipped overseas where it will bring a higher price. In the end, we will be paying more for our own gas. Interesting eh?

[John Hahn is a resident of Shohola, PA and a member of the Pike County Gas Task Force.]

Ironic, you say?

God forbid we export anything to China. The irony is that because of American gluttony, we import many things we don't need to and that many invasive pests ride along with this cargo and destroy the very trees that so called environmentalists are so fond of hugging. Producing energy here in America can only reduce dependency on foreign energy, reduce our debt, clean up the environment, and stop these needless wars. Interesting, indeed.