The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will step up to the plate by proactively conducting field inspections of natural gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale area, a first for an agency charged with protecting the Commonwealth’s wildlife and water resources.


The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will step up to the plate by proactively conducting field inspections of natural gas drilling sites in the Marcellus Shale area, a first for an agency charged with protecting the Commonwealth’s wildlife and water resources.
“Until now our agency has only reacted to those drilling sites where a problem resulted in a (hazardous) material entering a waterway or wetlands,” said Dr. Douglas Austen, the agency’s executive director, in a statement.
“We are now taking a proactive approach to identify possible problems at a drilling site and to work with the company to ensure necessary measures are in place to minimize the possibility of damaging nearby waterways.”
Pennsylvania’s primary natural gas regulator, the state Department of Environment Protection (DEP), will still continue its inspection and enforcement duties, in light of this recent announcement.
Although some have charged that DEP is severely understaffed to handle it in particular with hundreds of more natural gas wells coming online next year in the Marcellus Shale, as previously reported in The Wayne Independent. (The Marcellus Shale, a vast natural gas reserve, underlays Wayne County.)
Also, county conservation districts were stripped of their regulatory oversight of natural gas drilling in April, nullifying a local watchdog yet arguably providing a more streamlined application process for natural gas operators.
The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will now fill some of that void, and the agency will particularly focus on drilling sites that are near waterways and wetlands. The inspections will determine if adequate environmental protections are in place.
The agency will also test water quality, and further has the authority to levy fines.
“Because of the importance of this issue, waterways conservation officers and field staff have set aside other job duties and functions for a period of time in order to conduct these field inspections,” said Austen. Law enforcement officers and biologists will assume these duties.
The agency was part of a joint investigation in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County regarding three toxic chemical spills that negatively impacted a wetland and stream there.
More than 150 active well sites have been identified for inspections so far.
The inspections are expected to begin in December.