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Centralization of Authority

Over the past few weeks, we have seen Governor Corbett centralize authority over the issuance of Marcellus Shale Permits and the inspection/violation/citation process into the hands of two people; essentially emasculating the PADEP and possibly removing any ‘teeth’ the well inspectors might have. This is both a depressing and frightening state of affairs; and has led me to writing my State and Federal elected officials with the following:

I am writing to you today to express concern over recent decisions that have been made by the Governor of the State of Pennsylvania and offices under his authority regarding the Marcellus Shale drilling that have far-reaching consequences for the citizens of PA. I am not opposed to energy independence; nor am I opposed to the safe operation of Marcellus Shale drilling; but I feel that recent events have been contrived to circumvent legal processes that have been in place to ensure the safety of the aforementioned drilling operations; and to protect the citizenry of the State of PA, and the environment from harm that may be caused by dubious operations of said drilling facilities.

The specific decisions I am referering to are:

1. Governor Corbett’s decision to allow the Director of Community and Economic Development, C. Alan Walker, to circumvent the permit process for new Gas Wells if he feels the PADEP or other agencies are not issuing permits fast enough. This process should be a methodical one; given the damage than can result from a poorly operated well. We’ve seen the results of this already; areas and individual who have had their water wells contaiminated after drilling operations began nearby. To allow a single individual the ability to circumvent this process with a proverbial ‘stroke of a pen’ seems irresponsible on the part of Governor Corbett.

2. The recent decision within the Department of Environmental Protection that has centralized the issuance of any Marcellus Shale-related enforcement and permit approvals, including notices of violations, with senior DEP management.  Those clearances would come from the Deputy for Field Operations, Executive Deputy for Programs and final clearance from the Secretary of DEP. The reason given was to ensure ‘consistency’ within the agency; but this removes the inspectors ‘teeth’ (so to speak) and actually could inhibit them from doing their duty—or worse; it could emasculate them to the point that they aren’t being diligent enough when inspecting the wells. Between January of 2008 through October of 2010, there were over 2,000 violations at Marcellus Shale wells here in PA. If the inspectors do not have immediate authority to ensure that the well operations are being safely performed; then the safety of our citizens may be in jeopardy.

It is my fervent hope that your office would be able to look into these matters and suggest corrective actions to be undertaken to protect the Citizens of PA from possible abuses that could arise from the centralization of authority these decisions have created.

Thank you for your time,

L. Dwayne Sudduth

I hope this does some good–but I realize that it takes more than one person writing to goad our elected people into action. Perhaps by spreading this around, many citizens will write and our elected officials will be encouraged to act.

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