Budget and staff cuts have left the state Department of Environmental Protection ill-equipped for its role in monitoring the installation of tens of thousands of miles of natural-gas pipelines over the next decade, DEP Secretary John Quigley said Friday.
After what Quigley described as "years of relentless budget cuts," the department has 671 fewer positions than it did seven years ago, an estimated 20 percent decrease.
Of these lost jobs, 441 were permit writers and pipeline inspectors, he said.
Quigley, chair of Gov. Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force, cited "a critical need for smart planning," in the group's February report. He added that "Pennsylvania has the opportunity to take a national leadership position in demonstrating how smart planning can achieve environmental and business 'win-wins.' "
But on Friday he said the pipeline infrastructure boom would be "an immense challenge" to an agency that is "emaciated."
"A spider web of infrastructure is going to be spun across the face of Penn's Woods," Quigley said at a symposium at Villanova University's law school discussing plans for the pipeline build-out.
Pennsylvania is the nation's second-largest producer of natural gas, Quigley said. He called getting product to market "the biggest challenge facing the gas industry today."
About 2,000 major pipeline projects are in some stage of planning or construction in Pennsylvania, he said.
Several other members of the task force spoke at the conference about the February report, which generated 184 recommendations about pipeline safety and regulation.
Opposition to pipeline build-out in the region has centered on worries about safety if pipes fail, concerns about harming the environment and the loss of home value.
Proponents cite pipelines as a safer choice of transporting fuels than trucks or trains and say shale gas can strengthen Pennsylvania's economy while supporting the implementation of more renewable energy sources.