The Department of Environmental Protection is hiring 68 new inspectors to monitor natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale formation, but environmental advocates say that’s not nearly enough.
Governor Rendell says the hiring wave is an example of “decisive, progressive protections” for Pennsylvania’s environment but Brady Russell of environmental advocacy group Clean Water Action says that still leaves DEP’s inspection staff undermanned and spread too thin.
He says the agency needs to do more preventative inspections, arguing right now, officials are simply reacting to problems that have already happened.
"So they’re not just there every time they hear a line blew up, or a worker got injured, or a few thousand gallons of fraking fluid spilled. They’re not just putting out fires. They need to get there and make sure work’s done right, to prevent those kinds of accidents from happening."
The department performed 14,544 site inspections last year, and expects to carry out much more work in 2010. The Rendell Administration expects companies to apply for 52-hundred Marcellus Shale drilling permits this year. Money generated from permitting fees will fund the new hires.
Representative Greg Vitali, a Delaware County Democrat, is introducing a measure requiring a five-year moratorium on land leasing, saying environmental policy gets thrown to the wayside when legislators eye state forests as money-makers.
"There are serious consequences to drilling on state forest land, including water quality issues, habitat issues. Quality of life issues, including hunting, hiking, fishing and so forth."
DEP Secretary John Hanger disputes the notion inspectors are spread too thin. He says the new hires will give the department the resources it needs to carry out inspection work this year.