Testimony Points to Hasty Approvals for Sensitive Gas Drilling Projects

Overburdened regulators in Pennsylvania may be rubber-stamping natural gas well permits as they struggle to cope with an unprecedented drilling boom that could have major consequences for the state’s environment.

Citing testimony in a lawsuit concerning a permit issued in northeastern Pennsylvania, the Associated Press reports that staffers at the state Department of Environmental Protection spend as little as 35 minutes reviewing applications to drill for gas in the state’s vast Marcellus Shale reserves. Of the 7,019 applications that the agency has processed since 2005, only 31 have been rejected.

The drilling boom, while turning Pennsylvania into a major player in the natural gas business, also has fueled environmental concerns. Drilling for shale gas involves the use of hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” an extraction technique linked to water and air contamination.

The lawsuit in which DEP officials testified challenges the issuance of a permit for an exploratory gas well less than a half-mile from the Delaware River and about 300 feet from a pristine stream.

According to the AP, the depositions of four staffers reveal, among other things, that DEP doesn’t thoroughly consider the potential impact of drilling on legally protected, high-quality watersheds. Likewise, the agency is said to give scant attention to  whether proposed wells comply with municipal or regional zoning and planning laws.

“What these depositions reveal is that the state is doing next to nothing in approving permits, even in the Delaware River basin, even in high quality watersheds, even in the wild and scenic river corridor,” said Jordan Yeager, a lawyer for the plaintiffs. “All together, they are spending less than 35 minutes in approving these $5 million industrial sites that have the ability to pollute the water that’s relied upon by [millions of] people.”

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