DEP regulators rush through gas-drilling permit reviews

    Pennsylvania environmental regulators testified that they spend 30 minutes or less reviewing permits for natural gas wells. The interviews of four employees of the Department of Environmental Protection are part of a lawsuit filed by environmentalists and residents challenging the state’s approval of a natural gas well.

    Attorney for the plaintiffs, Jordan Yeager, said he knew DEP inspectors were overwhelmed by the amount of new natural gas wells. But he said he didn’t expect such a lack of scrutiny.

    “I was surprised by the breadth and depth of the inadequacies in their permit reviews. Two of our three people involved in the permit review process spent two minutes. And the person who spent a lot of time, spent 30 minutes,” he said.

    The depositions also reveal the inspectors did not consider the environmental impacts on the nearby Delaware River. In fact, they didn’t know the definition of a “high quality” waterway. Nor did they take into consideration local zoning rules.

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    Yeager said the department lacks the staff to keep up with the thousands of new permit requests resulting from Pennsylvania’s natural gas boom.

    John Hanger, the former head of DEP, wouldn’t comment directly on the lawsuit. But he said the number of inspectors did increase under his watch.

    “It was our view that the Department of Environmental Protection was likely to be in a position to have to hire people for quite a while as the industry grows,” he said.

    He said the situation would improve if the state’s oil and gas act is modernized.

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