The five-year problem the DEP didn’t know about

Sometimes a news story hits, grabs some headlines for a day and then fades into the ether.

So...let’s revisit a story from a few weeks back and see if we can bubble up a little discussion about it.

On Jan. 16, it was announced that Range Resources, a major gas driller in Pennsylvania, violated state regulations for about five years when it failed to keep correct records of the water it was extracting from waterways in the state for its fracking operations.

We also found that, over that same time period, the driller exceeded — numerous times —  the amount of water the DEP had approved it to withdraw.

The company reached a $1.75 million settlement agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. The DEP and Range both emphasized that the violations were about recordkeeping and caused no harm to the environment. (But critics of fracking have raised concerns over the years about the practice of fracking depleting U.S. water supplies.)

How did the DEP manage not to notice that Range was keeping shoddy records and exceeding water withdrawal limits for FIVE years?

And, are there other companies doing this?

John Poister, a DEP spokesman, said it’s difficult for inspectors to be on the scene when water is withdrawn because withdrawals are random and usually done very quickly. So the DEP relies on self-reporting from the industry, he said.

“We rely on the electronic reporting to give us a picture [of the] withdrawals,” Poister wrote in an email. “Periodically, we conduct reviews to determine if those records are accurate. In this case, Range discovered the discrepancies and reported them to us.”

Currently, there is no regulatory requirement for the DEP to review water withdrawal records.

But, after this situation, and taking into account the length of time Range violated state regulations, I think a fair question is, should there be?

Poister said the DEP is currently investigating whether other drillers have had similar violations, but would not elaborate because the investigations are ongoing.

Reach Natasha Khan at 412-315-0261 or nkhan@publicsource.org. Follow her on Twitter @khantasha.