Shale exploration is regulated by federal and state laws, but it is the state agencies that monitor and enforce drilling activities in the Commonwealth. Marcellus Shale falls under eight federal and eleven Pennsylvania acts or laws which regulate the environmental and social impacts of drilling. Drilling activity is monitored by multiple state agencies.
DEP is primarily responsible for issuing permits, monitoring well sites, responding to complaints, and fining violators. DEP inspectors routinely and randomly inspect drilling sites throughout the state. Since 2005, 1,526 Marcellus Shale wells have been drilled in the state.25 In 2009 alone, the Department carried out 14,544 drilling site inspections. DEP has over 190 employees working full-time on oil and gas oversight.
Additionally, the Fish and Boat Commission, as well as County Conservation Districts, work with DEP to monitor effects on local ecosystems and aquatic life. Depending on the location, drilling operators must also receive permits from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission or the Delaware River Basin Commission.
The extensive regulatory oversight requires additional resources and funds, leading DEP to add over 100 new inspectors since 2009 and open a new office in Scranton funded by an increase in drilling permit fees. Last year, the cost for a permit rose from about $100 to almost $6,000. DEP Secretary John Hanger believes the increased fees will bring in $11 million this year, compared to only $700,000 in 2008-2009, an almost 1,600% increase.
Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law prohibits discharging any pollutants from drilling into the state's water sources and requires that Best Management Practices (BMP) be used to limit land disturbance and runoff. DEP describes BMP as "minimizing earth disturbances, silt fences, mulch, diversion ditches, sediment traps, sediment basins, and the establishment of grasses for permanent stabilization." Companies are required to have an Erosion, Sediment and Storm Control plan or permit (a permit is required when more than five acres is disturbed) showing how their BMPs protect water sources from erosion and runoff. Further, drillers are held responsible to correct any groundwater contamination within 1,000 feet of a well. Water withdrawal over 10,000 gallons per day for a 30-day period requires a permit, and drilling is prohibited within 100 feet from any body of water. This law, in conjunction with the Solid Waste Management Act, establishes fines between $10,000 to $25,000 per day for each violation committed.
State laws require companies to disclose all chemical compounds used in the fracking process, but not the specific quantities of each, as that information is considered proprietary. The complete list is available at DEP's website: http://www.dep.state.pa.us/dep/deputate/minres/oilgas/FractListing.pdf.
Congress is considering a federal takeover of fracking oversight, which would only lessen Pennsylvania's environmental protection.
S. 1215, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, would require the hydraulic fracturing process to be monitored by the federal government under the Safe Drinking Water Act. S. 1215 is unwarranted. Fracking occurs thousands of feet beneath aquifers, and there is no indication it causes contamination. According to DEP's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management director, "there has never been any evidence of fracking ever causing direct contamination of fresh groundwater in Pennsylvania or anywhere else."
Besides being unnecessary, the FRAC Act is poor policy, as it shifts responsibility away from local authorities who are better equipped to handle local situations. Pennsylvania's regulatory agencies have made sure no water contamination in the state has occurred and should be supported as the correct regulatory bodies for protecting the state's waterways.