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Bear in the Woods: Environmental Law Blog

Monday, November 19, 2012

DEP sends strong warning that expedited cannot mean slapdash

The flurry of activities occurring in the Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania, such as well pad, pipeline and compressor station development, could do major violence to our water resources if activities are not carefully regulated.

Fortunately, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) requires persons proposing to disturb five acres or more of land in connection with such activities to obtain coverage under an erosion and sediment control permit. The terms and conditions of this permit are intended to protect our water resources.

Unfortunately, DEP offers an expedited review process under which applicants are guaranteed permit coverage within 14 business days. To qualify for an expedited permit, applications must be prepared and certified by a licensed professional registered in Pennsylvania who has attended a mandatory training.

PennFuture does not support the expedited permit review process because we believe every application should receive a complete technical review from DEP staff to ensure that oil and gas activities will not degrade rivers, streams, and other bodies of water. Nevertheless, we were pleased to find some encouraging news related to the expedited permit review process on the Environmental Hearing Board docket last week.

Attached to a notice of appeal filed by AECOM Technical Services Inc. was a letter suspending an AECOM employee's ability to utilize the expedited permit review process in the future based on an application she prepared for the Williams Field Services Company, LLC Springville Gathering Line Project in which she allegedly failed to identify a number of water resources, resulting in a whopping 34 unauthorized impacts to wetlands and streams, at least some of which appear to have been entitled to special protection.

DEP also appeared to raise the possibility of a criminal investigation when it invoked the provisions of Pennsylvania law that relate to false swearing and unsworn falsification to authorities. The suspension and implied threat of criminal prosecution should send a strong message to all professionals: They must comply with the law when preparing erosion and sediment control permit applications.

PennFuture hopes that all licensed professionals registered in Pennsylvania, as well as the gas companies that retain their services, are listening carefully.