Was the Pennsylvania DEP Bribed to Avoid Better Tracking of Marcellus Drilling Wastewater?

briberyThe latest fallout from The New York Times story is about how wastewater from Marcellus Shale drilling operations in Pennsylvania is tracked as it is disposed. Supposedly the Times has found that there is a conspiracy:

Documents posted with an article in The New York Times on Wednesday reveal an ultimately successful lobbying push by the Marcellus Shale industry to convince the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] to drop a manifest system for tracking the wastewater produced from each natural gas well.

The trove of documents posted by the Times includes minutes from a 2009 meeting between the industry, DEP representatives and an adviser to Gov. Ed Rendell in which two state representatives, both of whom later left their government positions to work for the gas industry, indicate they would try to convince then DEP Secretary John Hanger “that there is no need to have a permit condition regarding a requirement for a manifest system” because residual waste regulations already allow for such tracking.

Hanger defended the decision on Thursday, saying the state’s “rules on tracking are good” but they depend on both vigorous enforcement and thorough reporting by the industry to be effective.*

The point the Times and others opposed to drilling are trying to make is that there is a way to track and ensure wastewater is not illegally dumped that is streamlined and better than the existing system, but that “better way” was rejected by the gas industry for unstated reasons. The implication is that gas companies like to illegally dump wastewater and don’t want to be found out doing it, and that employees inside the DEP and the Governor’s office were bribed with lucrative job offers, which is all so much nonsense. The simple fact is the gas industry objected to yet another layer of burdensome reporting that duplicated reporting already in place and working.

The debate now revolves around whether or not the tracking and reporting currently in place really does work effectively—an issue that will have to be addressed by the DEP.

*The Daily Review (Mar 4) – DEP defends wastewater tracking but problems persist