Ferlo fears Pennsylvania drilling oversight hampered

Brian C. Rittmeyer
| Tuesday, April 5, 2011

State Sen. Jim Ferlo is calling on Gov. Tom Corbett to immediately rescind a policy change that requires all permitting and enforcement orders relating to Marcellus shale gas drilling to be reviewed by the new chief of the Department of Environmental Protection.

In a conference call on Monday, Ferlo, D-Highland Park, said the order from acting DEP Secretary Michael Krancer would have a "chilling effect" on the ability of inspectors in the field to properly enforce regulations.

Inspectors must have "a free hand to shut down sites," and the discretion to initiate citations and take enforcement actions, Ferlo said.

Last week, it was announced that all violation notices for gas drillers and the enforcement actions the agency plans must be e-on mailed to Krancer.

A DEP spokeswoman said the department's six regions each enforce the rules differently, and Krancer is trying to improve consistency across the state.

Ferlo called that claim "disingenuous," because the order dealt only with Marcellus shale, not any other areas of DEP enforcement.

Ferlo said a statement that the policy change may be temporary is evidence that Corbett's administration "got caught with their pants down" as criticism of the decision mounts.

"It was, 'Let's get away with whatever we can get away with,'" Ferlo said.

In a letter dated Thursday to Senate President Joseph Scarnati and Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi, Ferlo asked that formal Senate hearings be held on the matter.

Calls to Scarnati and Pileggi's Harrisburg offices were not returned on Monday.

Ferlo called on Corbett to come forward and clarify the state government's position.

Ferlo said Corbett's decisions amount to "payback" for the natural gas industry, which supported his campaign, and that his administration is "doing the bidding of the Marcellus shale industry."

"What Dick Cheney was to 'Big Oil,' this governor seems to be to the Marcellus shale industry," Ferlo said.

A call to Corbett's office for comment was not returned.

Ferlo favors a severance tax on natural gas extraction, which Corbett opposes. Ferlo is against the local impact fees Corbett recently indicated he would not oppose.

On Monday, Ferlo said he would want to see a third of the revenue collected from a severance tax sent back to local communities to help them cope with the "detrimental impacts" of drilling operations.

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