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Top 10 Lessons Learned from Pennsylvania

When you talk about the need for increased regulatory oversight of the oil & gas industry, you’re bound to hear the same thing over and over again: Everything’s fine.  At least that’s what oil & gas industry executives would have you believe.

We all know that’s not the case.  But rarely does a state regulator go on record and confirm that, in fact, things are far from okay.  Last week, Pennsylvania’s former Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger did just that.

And Hanger should know.  As head of the PA DEP, he green-lit and presided over an onslaught of industrial gas drilling, turning to enforcement only after the political heat became unbearable.  But that doesn’t mean we should discount his words of warning.  These statements are as much of a public apology as Pennsylvanians are ever going to get for what’s transpired over the past few years.  And if legislators and regulators across the country don’t take notice, the joke will be on all of us.

According to a report in the Citizen’s Voice-Times Tribune, Hanger had the following to say about the current state of gas regulation in Pennsylvania:

(1)    Maximum fines for violators are “way too low”

(2)    Bond amounts that drillers are required to post to ensure adequately plugged wells are “scandalously low”

(3)    Pennsylvania taxpayers have already footed the bill for over $16 million to plug abandoned oil and gas wells

(4)    Pennsylvania is in the process of “repeating the same mistake” by not requiring adequate bond amounts

(5)    State law should give regulators the right to ban drilling in floodplains

(6)    State law should mandate adequate distance between gas wells and drinking water reservoirs

(7)    State law should give regulators the right to deny permits to companies that repeatedly break environmental     laws

(8)    The legislature needs to act quickly to change law in order protect the environment

(9)    PA DEP should not be a partner of the gas industry.  “The gas industry companies have partners.  They’re called investors.”

(10) “The single most important thing” is for PA DEP to serve as a “professional, independent watchdog.” 

To sum up: if legislators don’t change the law, and environment agencies don’t step up to fill the role as top environmental cops, then all bets are off.  Let’s take it from someone who’s been there before.

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