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Gas firms hire the regulators as Marcellus boom continues

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By The Times-tribune
Tuesday, Jan. 25, 2011

The Marcellus shale natural gas industry has jobs to offer in Pennsylvania and, in many cases, environmental regulators who once watched over the drillers are stepping in to fill the openings.

The Department of Environmental Protection does not track where former employees work after they leave the agency or count how many have left for jobs with regulated businesses, but officials admit that competing with the booming -- and well-paying -- industry for employees has become an ongoing challenge.

"Losing good employees, for whatever reason, is always a problem," former DEP Secretary John Hanger said before he left the state's top environmental post with the change of administrations last week. "The turnover in staff is one of the hurdles that has to be overcome."

On Wednesday, L.R. Kimball, an architecture and engineering firm, announced it hired J. Scott Roberts as an adviser to help the company expand its operations in the Marcellus shale.

Roberts, a 25-year DEP employee, retired as deputy secretary for mineral resources management in December. He was one of the department's most knowledgeable leaders on Marcellus shale issues and often testified along with, or in place of, Hanger at public hearings concerning the industry.

Prior to Roberts' hiring, the highest-profile departure from the department to the industry was Barbara Sexton, then the department's second-highest-ranking official, who left to become director of governmental affairs in the state for Chesapeake Energy last year.

Lower-profile senior staff members that offered the department decades of knowledge and experience have found jobs with the industry.

Richard Adams, a 30-year veteran of the department who played an influential role when DEP began developing rules for treating the salty wastewater that comes from the deep shale wells, is senior environmental adviser for Chief Oil and Gas.

Joe Umholtz, the former surface activities division chief in the department's bureau of oil and gas, joined Colorado-based MWH in the environmental engineering firm's oil and gas sector last year.

Gary Byron, who worked for the department for 33 years before retiring as assistant regional director in the Williamsport office in 2008, founded Dux Head Environmental Services, which specializes in environmental consulting for the natural gas industry. He is a frequent contractor with Carrizo Oil and Gas.

And Helen Humphreys, a seven-year spokeswoman for the department's Pittsburgh office who served as the agency's communications director for five months last year, has been senior corporate communications specialist at Williams, a natural gas production and transportation company, since November.

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