Interdisciplinary and cross-media huh?
Furthermore, what “consistency” tends to do, in practice, is aim for the lowest common denominator. When the department first took away oversight of natural gas facilities from the local conservation districts a few years ago, it meant that control was removed from those who are not only in the best position to see what is going on, but to care about it. And districts like PCCD, which are inclined to provide better protection for their own vicinity than Harrisburg, have been hamstrung. The same “unifying” effect, of course, is created by the state’s Oil & Gas Act, which provides all kinds of state-level exceptions and permissions for those industries that apply across the board, regardless of the wishes of specific localities.
The kind of problems this pull to state control can produce became evident at the monthly board meeting of the PCCD last week. Under discussion were gas pipeline companies, not gas drillers, but many of the principles involved are the same.
Among the issues discussed was the fact that the rules that have been constructed for the pipeline companies, as part of the oil and gas industry, are much more lenient than for small businesses or individuals, who have to reclaim earth disturbances as they go along. This has allowed vast tracts of Pike to be disturbed at one time, creating corresponding runoff risks for every stream and wetland in the county. (And the “consistency” part is…? How about having consistent rules for everybody, big and small?)
Because of the vast size of this disturbed area, there is no way to get sufficient staff to oversee it. On the sites that staff can get to, “stupid” violations are observed, and recorded, repeatedly. But despite this, the companies have not been fined by the DEP. When pressed by the PCCD, the DEP responded that it didn’t want to collect fines now; it would do so “at the end.” (And the “protection” part is…?) Finally, it was reported that during a conference call in which PCCD board member Linda Cioppa participated, both state and industry (Range Resources) representatives came right out and said that no changes would be made in the regulatory structure without the gas companies’ approval: they “call the shots.”