From the Associated Press:
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection has changed its policy for water pollution cases that may be related to Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling.
The Post-Gazette of Pittsburgh (http://bit.ly/Qnv3Ri ) reports Monday that department administrators in Harrisburg now decide whether residential water users should receive letters notifying them about problems. In the past, field offices made that decision.
The policy was not publicly announced and was distributed in an internal department email on Sept. 14, the newspaper reported.
A former department official told the newspaper that the policy baffles him.
George Jugovic Jr., president of the environmental group PennFuture, said the letters are "supposed to be a scientific decision based on water test results and the law." He questioned whether top officials in Harrisburg have the experience to analyze tests.
A decision not to send a pollution determination letter could save drilling companies from having to pay for groundwater remediation, water treatment or water replacement costs when a dispute with a property owner arises.
Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Kevin Sunday told the paper that the agency made the policy change as a result of an Environmental Hearing Board ruling that found such letters are an appealable action that deserves top-level review. Sunday also said the department "takes very strong action in cases where oil and gas drilling causes methane migration."
A former department secretary also questioned the change.
John Hanger, Department of Environmental Protection secretary during the Rendell administration, said the agency bears the burden of justifying why such a change was made to a science-based process that reported water test results "honestly and independently and professionally."
"The process wasn’t broken. There was no abuse. The field staff is professional and careful and does a good job," Hanger said. "These determination letters should be based on good science."
Hanger added that there are no cases yet to indicate that there are problems with the new policy.
Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.
Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.
Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.
The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.
Earthjustice, a national eco-group.
People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.
Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.
No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.
Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.
Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.
Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.