Marcellus water-usage audit good first step toward trust
The state auditor general can't answer one of the most fundamental and vexing questions resulting from the natural gas boom - whether deep drilling and fracking has had a long-term negative impact on water quality.
New state Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has gotten off to a strong start, however, in making the Department of Environmental Protection's monitoring of the drilling industry's water usage and waste disposal the subject of his first performance audit.
Like many contentious issues these days, the question of drilling's impact on the state's priceless water resources has been debated mostly from the far ends of the spectrum. Environmental activists have shown pictures of flame-spewing water faucets while drilling advocates have contended that the drilling process and fracking are benign, relative to water quality, because the shale deposits lie far below the aquifer.
And, under the ardently pro-drilling Corbett administration, the performance of the DEP has begged independent scrutiny. Past decisions on the power of inspectors in the field, the permitting process and testing standards, for example, have been controversial.
DePasquale, a former deputy secretary of the DEP, has chosen well. Ideally, the performance audit will provide the public with a definitive conclusion about DEP's effectiveness as a regulator and protector of public health and resources.