3yr investigation: PA DEP oil & gas complaint system regularly ignores the public, effectively impossible to use

Ineffectiveness of public’s oil & gas pollution complaints, pollution tracking, confirm AG report problems continue, require halt to permits

July 23 — A three-year investigation shows that Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) oil and gas complaint system is ineffective and practically impossible to use by the impacted public it ostensibly serves. Released today, Loud and Clear: what public regulation complaints reveal about Pennsylvania’s oversight of oil and gas pollution and whom it serves, demonstrates that–contrary to the Wolf Administration’s claims–problems recently revealed by the state’s Attorney General persist. It also documents significant gaps in how the state tracks and addresses oil and gas pollution.

From 2018-2020, Earthworks’ certified thermographers recorded optical gas imaging video of otherwise invisible air pollution — methane and toxic volatile organic compounds such as benzene — from oil and gas production in Pennsylvania. Earthworks staff used that evidence to file regulatory complaints with the DEP. Regulators responded to only about half of our complaints, taking action directly intended to reduce pollution for only 21% (11) and taking no action on 32% (17). DEP has ignored 15 of the complaints to date.

Last month, Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro released a scathing report on the criminal harms caused by the oil and gas industry, and the systemic failure of state agencies to prevent them. The Wolf Administration responded by claiming that those problems were part of the past and effectively solved by new oil and gas regulations.

The Wolf Administration is currently finalizing a new rule that would help reduce the type of pollution that is the focus of Loud and Clear. However, as currently written the rule would exempt many polluters, and allow companies to scale back their pollution reduction activities over time — creating more opportunities for pollution to occur and fewer chances for it to be caught and fixed.

“As the Attorney General reported, DEP remains more focused on supporting the oil and gas industry than in protecting the public.

Until DEP actually fulfills its mission ‘to protect Pennsylvania’s air, land, and water from pollution and provide for the health and safety of its citizens,’ the Wolf Administration must stop issuing permits. A good place to start is to veto the $650 million petrochemical giveaway bill now on his desk, which was designed specifically to drive more demand for oil and gas.

To help protect Pennsylvanians from already permitted operations, Governor Wolf should strengthen his proposed existing source rule to include low producing wells and remove the senseless and dangerous provision allowing operators to do fewer pollution inspections over time.” — Earthworks PA/OH Field Advocate and report co-author Leann Leiter.

“The DEP doesn’t serve the public. Hand in hand with the oil and gas industry, they are in the business of permitting pollution. Regulations can’t fix this. We need a new state agency who puts the people’s health and well-being and the planet first.” — Maria Kretschmann, impacted resident of southwestern PA

“This report shows what we have been lamenting for years – that the Pennsylvania DEP’s track records for monitoring, reporting, and responding to citizen complaints regarding the oil and gas industry are woefully inadequate. DEP needs to better protect citizens from oil and gas industry hazards both by improving monitoring and reporting requirements and by having a more reliable system of responding swiftly and more effectively to citizen complaints.”  — Lisa Graves-Marcucci, PA Coordinator, Community Outreach, for the Environmental Integrity Project

“Our ability to protect Pennsylvania’s environment is only as good as the laws we have on the books and the vigilance of regulators who enforce them. As Earthworks’ study shows, we have a long way to go on both these fronts when it comes to protecting Pennsylvanians from oil and gas drilling and fracking.” — David Masur, Executive Director for PennEnvironment 

“When government activities lack transparency and need to be pieced together like a puzzle, it fails to meet its charge of serving the public and taking actions to uplift their lives. Earthworks’ report is the latest to make it loud and clear that the lack of resources at DEP and its history of playing catch up with protections has left Pennsylvania vulnerable to oil and gas pollution.” — Steve Hvozdovich, Pennsylvania Campaigns Director for Clean Water Action


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