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Pennsylvania Auditor: State Department of Environmental Protection Was Unprepared For Shale Industry's Growth

Energy

The Pennsylvania auditor general on Tuesday confirmed what was never up for debate for environmental groups and residents—the state was unprepared for the growth of the shale gas industry.

"(The audit) shows that the meteoric growth of the shale gas industry caught the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) unprepared to effectively administer laws and regulations to protect drinking water and unable to efficiently respond to citizen complaints,” Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said.

An audit in Pennsylvania confirmed the obvious: the state was unprepared for a rapidly growing industry. Photo credit: Phys.org

None of that is lost on environmental groups. It's why they began vetting gubernatorial candidates months ago to see who would stand up against fracking and why they weren't surprised to learn about a fracking company trying to buy approval from residents.

"The auditor general has confirmed what Pennsylvania residents have long been saying and experiencing: The impacts of gas development are real, intense, and not being addressed," said Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks' Oil & Gas Accountability Project. "DEP and the legislature can start putting the public interest first by adopting the report's recommendations, dedicating more resources to enforcement, and working more closely with communities to solve problems than they do with industry."

Aside from the lack of regulations to protect people from the impacts of fracking, the audit also details how ineffective the state's complaint tracking system has been. Among other things, it failed to provide management with reliable information.

"The Auditor General's inspection is not just a capture of deficiencies within the agency in present time but a call to the future to take actions that will improve agency policies and operations so that public confidence in the agency can be restored and we can better protect drinking water & public health", said Steve Hvozdovich, Marcellus Shale Policy associate for Clean Water Action.

DePasquale said he made 29 suggestions to the DEP, with the agency disagreeing with only seven. One recommendation that seems basic is to evaluate the self-reported waste data from drillers, haulers and disposal facilities related to shale drilling to ensure proper disposal.

“Finally the fundamental flaws in the DEP’s management of the impacts from shale gas development have come to light," said Nick Kennedy, a community advocate for Mountain Watershed Association. "The auditor general’s report vindicates the ever growing chorus of voices that have been calling on the DEP for years to reform its practices, and for sufficient funding for adequate staffing.

"Having devoted significant resources to combat the impacts of water contamination, bureaucratic delay and flawed information on the communities we serve, we hope this report sparks real change in shale extraction oversight."

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A volcano erupts on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island on Dec. 9, 2019. Michael Schade / Twitter

A powerful volcano on Monday rocked an uninhabited island frequented by tourists about 30 miles off New Zealand's coast. Authorities have confirmed that five people died. They expect that number to rise as some are missing and police officials issued a statement that flights around the islands revealed "no signs of life had been seen at any point,", as The Guardian reported.

"Based on the information we have, we do not believe there are any survivors on the island," the police said in their official statement. "Police is working urgently to confirm the exact number of those who have died, further to the five confirmed deceased already."

The eruption happened on New Zealand's Whakaari/White Island, an islet jutting out of the Bay of Plenty, off the country's North Island. The island is privately owned and is typically visited for day-trips by thousands of tourists every year, according to The New York Times.

Michael Schade / Twitter

At the time of the eruption on Monday, about 50 passengers from the Ovation of Seas were on the island, including more than 30 who were part of a Royal Caribbean cruise trip, according to CNN. Twenty-three people, including the five dead, were evacuated from the island.

The eruption occurred at 2:11 pm local time on Monday, as footage from a crater camera owned and operated by GeoNet, New Zealand's geological hazards agency, shows. The camera also shows dozens of people walking near the rim as white smoke billows just before the eruption, according to Reuters.

Police were unable to reach the island because searing white ash posed imminent danger to rescue workers, said John Tims, New Zealand's deputy police commissioner, as he stood next to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in a press conference, as The New York Times reported. Tims said rescue workers would assess the safety of approaching the island on Tuesday morning. "We know the urgency to go back to the island," he told reporters.

"The physical environment is unsafe for us to return to the island," Tims added, as CNN reported. "It's important that we consider the health and safety of rescuers, so we're taking advice from experts going forward."

Authorities have had no communication with anyone on the island. They are frantically working to identify how many people remain and who they are, according to CNN.

Geologists said the eruption is not unexpected and some questioned why the island is open to tourism.

"The volcano has been restless for a few weeks, resulting in the raising of the alert level, so that this eruption is not really a surprise," said Bill McGuire, emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London, as The Guardian reported.

"White Island has been a disaster waiting to happen for many years," said Raymond Cas, emeritus professor at Monash University's school of earth, atmosphere and environment, as The Guardian reported. "Having visited it twice, I have always felt that it was too dangerous to allow the daily tour groups that visit the uninhabited island volcano by boat and helicopter."

The prime minister arrived Monday night in Whakatane, the town closest to the eruption, where day boats visiting the island are docked. Whakatane has a large Maori population.

Ardern met with local council leaders on Monday. She is scheduled to meet with search and rescue teams and will speak to the media at 7 a.m. local time (1 p.m. EST), after drones survey the island, as CNN reported.

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