HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Strained by limited resources and the rapid expansion of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, environmental regulators have failed to adequately monitor well safety or to provide clear and timely information to citizens, the state auditor general said Tuesday.
Eugene DePasquale released a performance audit report that says the Department of Environmental Protection lacks a clear policy on the timeliness and frequency of inspections of the thousands of wells and does not routinely verify information the industry provides about waste disposal.
The more than 150-page report, covering a four-year period ending in 2012, also says the DEP does a poor job of communicating with citizens who file complaints about drilling-related water problems and lacks a reliable system for tracking citizen complaints.
And it criticizes the DEP for its lack of transparency in making information about individual wells easily accessible to the public.
"There is no one place on the (department's) website where the public can look to see all the information DEP has made available," the report says.
DEP Secretary Christopher Abruzzo defended the department's performance in a written response that was included in DePasquale's report.
A 2012 law that represented the first overhaul of Pennsylvania's oil and gas laws in more than three decades took effect near the end of the audit period and made significant changes in the department's regulatory authority over the natural gas industry, Abruzzo said.
"To a great extent, the audit report reflects how the Oil and Gas Program formerly operated, not how the program currently functions," he said. "Many of the recommendations in the audit report have already been implemented" or are under consideration.
Patrick Henderson, a senior aide to Gov. Tom Corbett who attended DePasquale's news conference, said the department is no longer in a personnel bind thanks to recent funding increases that have made it possible to hire additional staffers.
Funding for regulatory operations in the fiscal year that began July 1 totals $23.5 million, the largest appropriation since Corbett took office in 2011, and staffing is anticipated to increase from 202 people to nearly 230, DEP spokesman Eric Shirk said.
The adequacy of staffing and resources is "an ongoing, constant re-evaluation," Henderson said.
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