Hanger challenges Corbett on natural gas drilling
HARRISBURG - Gov.-elect Tom Corbett will face public scrutiny over whether he enforces new state regulations governing the natural gas industry and maintains the Department of Environmental Protection as an independent watchdog agency, outgoing state environmental official John Hanger said Thursday.
With work on the Rendell administration's regulatory package to increase oversight of the Marcellus Shale drilling boom basically complete, DEP Secretary Hanger said the public will be watching to see how a Corbett administration carries out those oversight duties.
"We've got rules in place now that will protect the public if followed and enforced," said Hanger.
"DEP must remain a professional independent watchdog of the industry."
Hanger discussed the matter following approval by the Independent Regulatory Review Commission of a regulation to require stronger cement in well construction and more disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking fluids. This is the final regulation in the package. Pennsylvania recently adopted other regulations to limit pollution in drilling wastewater and create buffers along high-quality streams.
In addition, DEP has increased its drilling oversight staff and opened a regional office in Scranton, said Hanger.
Corbett's commitment to oversight will be weighed in light of nearly $1 million in contributions from the natural gas industry to his campaign, opposition to a state severance tax on natural gas production and intention to reverse Gov. Ed Rendell's recent moratorium on additional drilling on state forest land in the Marcellus Shale formation, said Hanger.
"The burden of proof is on the governor-elect," he added. "The industry doesn't make these donations as a charitable contribution."
A Corbett spokesman said he called during the campaign for strict environmental rules to keep drilling away from water sources, disclosing chemicals in fracking fluids, increase fines for environmental violations and increase industry bonds to cover costs for environmental cleanups.
"These are proactive measures and not political rhetoric," said spokesman Kevin Harley.
Corbett's position against a severance tax was well known to the voters who elected him governor, added Harley. He said Hanger is appearing like a sore loser.
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