Monday, September 19, 2011

DEP Oil & Gas Reorganization: First Thoughts

Will the DEP plans for a new, stand-alone Oil and Gas Bureau be positive or negative for those regulated and for the people of the state? (See Don Hopey's article about the reorganization at http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11262/1175941-100.stm?cmpid=latest.xml&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter.

Moving the Oil and Gas Bureau to a stand-alone bureau that reports to Harrisburg and not to the directors of the 6 regional offices is not on its face unreasonable, but it will not heavily determine whether regulation works well. The move itself will likely have some beneficial and negative affects, but at the margins.  One metric to watch carefully is whether the new Oil and Gas Bureau can respond to local and regional concerns, since gas drilling and production now is found in so many parts of Pennsylvania and is not as geographically concentrated as mining.  The mining program at DEP is pointed to as the model for the new Oil and Gas Bureau.

Four points determine whether regulation works well:

1.  Are regulators professional and independent of everyone with whom they must deal who care passionately about hot regulatory cases and issues?  They should not be the friend or foe of anyone.

2. Are the rules that they must enforce strong enough to protect the environment and effective?

3. Does the regulatory agency have enough staffing and other resources to process permits, enforce rules, and provide information to the public?

4. Is the regulatory agency instructed by its regulatory leaders to enforce the rules, to be the environmental cop on the beat?

The answers to these 4 questions, much more than organizational charts, will determine whether regulation works well for all.

Don Hopey is also reporting that further layoffs at DEP are anticipated, though apparently not in the Oil and Gas program.  Staffing at DEP is already cut through the bone after now more than 3 years of declining state appropriations and this year's decision in another bow to Grover Norquist's Pledge to halt all new fee packages to finance the agency.  More reductions will inevitably degrade the agency's ability to achieve its mission.

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