The Department of Environmental Protection is developing a regulatory system to ensure more statewide consistency in the enforcement of its natural gas and oil drilling regulations, according to a statement released by the department.
In the statement, DEP Secretary Mike Krancer said that since becoming secretary he’s been aware that oversight of oil and gas drilling was often inconsistent from region to region.
Krancer said his Office of Oil and Gas Management implemented a more detailed electronic inspection form for use in all three regions. The office is also working to develop additional training for inspectors and water quality specialists.
“With these changes, we should now be able to more swiftly close out notices of violation as having been corrected or, as necessary, elevate them to a higher enforcement level,” Krancer said.
A DEP report ordered by Krancer found that its water quality specialists performed 4,157 inspections of Marcellus Shale gas wells from Jan. 18 to June 24, the first five months of Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration. The team assembling the report found 633 violations.
According to the report, 269, or 9.86 percent, of the 2,727 inspections done in the north central region, which includes 45 counties in the eastern half of the state, found one or more violations. But in the 10-county southwest region, 38 of 1,101 inspections found violations, a rate of 3.45 percent. In the northwest, a 12-county region, 17 of 329 inspections resulted in violation findings, a 5.1 percent rate.
“Our field staff does great work, but the review confirmed that there were inconsistencies among our regions in how DEP applied regulations and enforcement, and with how the violations were reported,” Krancer said. “For example, we learned inspectors and water quality specialists in three regions were using three different inspection forms, resulting in inconsistent enforcement of our regulations.”
On another front, the department has begun to simplify the electronic data entry system used for violations, known as eFACTS, to compile a field manual for staff, and to provide staff with more standardized equipment. Plans are in the works to increase the number of compliance staff in each region’s Office of Oil and Gas Management and to provide industry with additional compliance assistance information.
Another set of drilling rules, from the Delaware River Basin Commission, was expected to be adopted Monday, Nov. 21 in Trenton, N.J. But the meeting was postponed when members failed to agree on a regulatory scheme.
Corbett said he was disappointed in the decision to cancel the meeting.
“Pennsylvania is ready to move forward now,” Corbett said. “The final regulatory package would ensure that natural gas is developed in a manner that protects our water resources and holds operators to the highest standards in the nation. It is the result of a nearly two-year regulatory process, which has previously been delayed to allow sufficient time to address remaining issues raised by members of the DRBC.”
Corbett noted that the regulatory requirements of the DRBC would be in addition to those already required by Pennsylvania state law.
The DRBC, which monitors the drinking-water supply of 15 million people — including Philadelphia and half of New York City — has representatives from the federal government and New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Delaware.
— John L. Kennedy, for the Law Weekly •
Following is a listing of executive and legislative action for the week of Nov. 21. Members of the General Assembly are scheduled to return to session on Dec. 5.
Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration announced the formation of a public-private council to identify and prioritize top issues that can sustain and advance manufacturing in the state.
“Manufacturing adds more than $75 billion in value each year to our state’s economy, and it is paramount that we do all that we can to preserve and support that sector of our economy,” Corbett said in a statement. “The council will research issues and make recommendations that will further strengthen that industry and ultimately allow manufacturers to add jobs for Pennsylvanians.”
The council, co-chaired by Department of Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker and Carlos Cardoso, chairman, president and CEO of Kennametal Inc., will conduct meetings over six months starting in January 2012.
The group will focus on taxes and the regulatory climate in Pennsylvania, talent and innovation, international markets, energy costs, efficiency and research and development.
Legislation that regulates the operation of “neighborhood electric vehicles” has been approved by the House.
HB 849 outlines guidelines for the regulation and operation of NEVs. The bill defines an NEV as a four-wheeled electric vehicle that has a maximum design speed of not less than 20 miles per hour and of not more than 25 miles per hour and that complies with the federal safety standards established for low-speed vehicles.
“An increasing number of NEVs are being driven in my district and across Pennsylvania,” said the bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Mike Fleck, R-Huntingdon. “They’re being used in senior citizen communities to provide transportation for residents or by businesses interested in cutting costs. It’s time the Commonwealth had some guidelines in place to ensure they are operated safely.”
The Department of Community and Economic Development’s Walker filed a petition with the Commonwealth Court to appoint David Unkovic as the receiver for the financially distressed state capital, Harrisburg.
“The city’s failure to come to an agreement on an acceptable recovery plan has forced the commonwealth to take this action,” Corbett said in a statement. “As more time goes by without action, the city’s financial situation continues to get worse.”
The governor said that Unkovic has more than 30 years of experience in public finance, primarily as bond counsel on tax-exempt financings for Pennsylvania local governments, authorities, school districts and nonprofit corporations. Unkovic earned his law degree from Harvard Law School and his undergraduate degree in political science, summa cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania.
The commonwealth also announced it will retain the services of McKenna Long & Aldridge, a firm based in Washington, D.C., which was selected because of the expertise and experience of its municipal recovery and restructuring group.  •