"ALLENTOWN, Pa. – Pennsylvania environmental regulators say they spend as little as 35 minutes reviewing each of the thousands of applications for natural gas well permits they get each year from drillers intent on tapping the state's lucrative and vast Marcellus Shale reserves.
And the regulators say they do not give any additional scrutiny to requests to drill near high-quality streams and rivers even though the waterways are protected by state and federal law.
Staffers in the state Department of Environmental Protection testified behind closed doors last month as part of a lawsuit filed by residents and environmental groups over a permit that DEP issued for an exploratory gas well in northeastern Pennsylvania, less than a half-mile from the Delaware River and about 300 feet from a pristine stream.
Reporting by the AP suggests that applications are rubber-stamped, rushed through with little scrutiny and rarely rejected. The staffers' statements indicate that DEP regulators are overburdened — and possibly ignoring environmental laws — as they struggle to deal with an unprecedented drilling boom that has turned Pennsylvania into a major natural gas player and raised fears about polluted aquifers and air."