Pennsylvania Fracking Reform

Pennsylvania legislators and our Attorney General are promoting new, overdue legislation, to help protect Pennsylvanians from the drilling and fracking of the unconventional oil and gas industry.

PUBLIC HERALD has been head and shoulders above the rest of the media outlets, in reporting the deeply troubling story of frac waste in Pennsylvania. In a June 29, 2020 story, Officials Told Families Their Water Was Safe After Fracking, Now A Grand Jury Says Crimes Were Committed by Kristen Locy and Joshua B. Pribanic, we learn the clear and present danger of the fracking problem.

This Public Herald excerpt gives readers a sense of how bad the ongoing problems are in Pennsylvania…

“Since 2004, Public Herald uncovered residents have complained to DEP over 10,000 times about more than just water quality changes. The widespread dispersal of complaints matches the shape of the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania. In May 2017, Public Herald shared 178 cases with Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office where Regulators were complicit in environmental crimes by botching investigations in seemingly willful ways, forcing families to live with contaminated water for years with no recourse.”

The story includes a clickable map of extensive water complaints in specific Pennsylvania townships. Public Herald reporters have done an amazing amount of research over the years, including in depth file reviews at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, often referred to as the D.E.P. Disillusioned citizens living near fracking have said those letters stand for, “Don’t Expect Protection.” Indeed, as the D.E.P. often appears to be more enablers, than protectors.

Moving forward.

During an 11 a.m. Press Conference yesterday, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and Senate Democrats, discussed ways they hope to remedy many of these issues. In the story: Shapiro, lawmakers tout new batch of fracking oversight bills, reporter Chrissy Suttles of the Beaver County Times, writes:

“State lawmakers on Tuesday pitched new legislation to tighten fracking industry oversight and accountability standards. The bills would move drilling sites further away from homes, schools, hospitals and reservoirs and give the attorney general’s office original criminal jurisdiction over oil and gas companies by amending existing laws. Currently, the office can’t prosecute environmental crimes without a referral from an agency with legal jurisdiction, lawmakers said, which is often time consuming. Another proposal would require gas companies to publicly disclose the chemicals used in operations before taking action. No-drill zones would be expanded from 500 feet to 2,500 feet in the case of homes, and to 5,000 feet in the case of hospitals, reservoirs and schools.”

Chrissy’s story includes quotes, including blowback from the Marcellus Shale Coalition president with typical pro- fracking sound bites, and ones from Sen. Gene Yaw, R-23, Lycoming County, who I consider the new anti- Christ of renewable energy in Pennsylvania, as he continues to promote drilling and fracking at all costs. In fact, Yaw is just one of the figureheads of the Republican majority’s grip on Harrisburg, working night and day to smooth the way for less restrictive drilling and fracking, while working hard to kneecap the future of renewable energy.

YourErie.com included this short story yesterday, Pennsylvania Attorney General works with senate Democrats on a package of bills to tighten regulations against the fracking industry. The story said in part:

“Eight regulations in all are being addressed. These regulations include the distance between homes and fracking sites, requiring public disclosure of all chemicals used in the process, and monitoring long term health effects. The recommendation came from the attorney general’s recently completed grand jury on fracking.”

In a May 20, 2021 story by Natalie Kapustik of the The Center Square: Legislation aims to close loophole for oil and gas waste; industry says concerns unwarranted, we learn further:

“Pennsylvania state Rep. Sara Innamorato, D- Allegheny, and Sen. Katie Muth, D-Berks, are reintroducing legislation that would force drilling operations in the oil and gas industry to treat or test drilling waste. The Pennsylvania Solid Waste Management Act, passed 30 years ago, excluded oil and gas companies from the requirement to thoroughly test or treat waste before disposing of it in municipal landfills and wastewater treatment plants, the lawmakers say. Neither landfills nor wastewater treatment plants can treat such radioactive waste, Innamorato and Muth said in a news release. Two of the bills would alter language in the Solid Waste Management Act to include drilling waste in the definition of hazardous waste and repeal language that exempts oil and gas industries from testing and treating drilling wastewater before disposal. The third bill would subject oil and gas waste to testing before it can be accepted in or released from municipal and sanitary landfills.”

In a Press Release from Senator Katie Muth, we see the full depth and breadth of the proposed legislation, as well as a link to yesterday’s 40 minute virtual Press Conference on Zoom:

“AG Shapiro and Senate Democrats Discuss Action Against Fracking Negligence”

Harrisburg, PA − May 25, 2021 – Today, Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro and members of the Senate Democratic Caucus led in this effort by State Senator Steve Santarsiero held a virtual press conference to discuss a package of bills aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and the overall safe management of gas drilling operations in the fracking industry.

The package of legislation addresses recommendations made in Pennsylvania’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on the unconventional oil and gas industry. The report was a result of a two-year investigation that included personal testimony from 70 households across the Commonwealth and dozens of current and former state employees. Findings detailed disturbing health impacts of Pennsylvania fracking operations on children, homeowners and livestock that live within proximity of drilling sites. Multiple families close to wells or other industrial sites described unexplained rashes, sudden nosebleeds, and respiratory issues.

“Last year, the Grand Jurors called on Pennsylvania to make concrete changes to reduce the health and safety risks on a fracking industry left unchecked by regulators impacting families across Pennsylvania. It is common sense to ensure fracking isn’t happening next to a school or too close to someone’s home. It is common sense for companies to be transparent about the chemicals they are using near the water supplies of homes,” said Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “I want to thank Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta for their work on these reforms—my office is committed to making sure Pennsylvanians are protected against powerful interests.”

The package of bills sponsored by Senate Democrats aim to usher in reforms that were specifically recommended by the Grand Jury report. The eight recommendations included:

  1. Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet;
  2. Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing before they are used on-site;
  3. Requiring the regulation of gathering lines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;
  4. Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;
  5. Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;
  6. Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;
  7. Limiting the ability of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the Department;
  8. Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.

Senators Santarsiero, Collett, Muth, Sabatina and Comitta will sponsor and co-sponsor bills that directly respond to the recommendations and the urgent need for action.

“Under this package of bills, citizens and others could report potential environmental crimes directly to the Attorney General’s office for investigation without having to go through other agencies first,” said Sen. Santarsiero, adding “This would speed up the process for investigations and convictions for environmental crimes and make it clear to potential polluters that damaging our land and water will be met with real consequences. Pennsylvanians have a constitutional right to clean air, pure water and the protection of the Commonwealth’s natural resources.  As a former Chief Deputy Attorney General for Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania, I have firsthand experience in how cumbersome, time consuming, and counter-productive the current process can be. It is time we ensure accurate resources exist to protect the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and pure water.”

“SB653 is a worker and public safety issue,” Senator Sabatina said. “When first responders show up to an accident scene, they need to quickly identify the substance in a spill. We have to keep truck drivers, first responders and drivers in Pennsylvania safe.”

“This package of bills should’ve been enacted before a single permit was approved by the DEP,” said Senator Muth. “For over ten years, Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the cumulative health impacts of the extraction industry and often have no idea what kind of harmful chemicals are being used right in their backyard or leaching into their water supplies. The recommendations included in report one of the 43rd Statewide Investigative Grand Jury Report are commonsense, proactive measures that will increase transparency about the hydraulic fracturing process. It’s time for state government to protect the people and our natural resources instead of protecting corporate polluters who only care about profits, even if it means harming people and the planet.”

According to data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Pennsylvania is the second largest producer of natural gas, following Texas. The industry has boomed in Pennsylvania with very little legal or regulatory accountability. Proposed legislation will address negligence, a lack of transparency and gaps in oversight that have allowed drillers to operate largely on their own accord, with profit often prioritized over children, families and animals that suffer because of exposure to dangerous chemicals, contaminated water and air pollution.

“In my district, where PFAS contamination levels have been among the highest in the nation, water quality is not something we take for granted,” said Senator Collett. “This urgent legislation will allow the Attorney General to take action against polluters and allow us to stop using state dollars – your dollars – to remediate hazards like these across the Commonwealth.”

“The health effects from industry activity are “magnified by proximity”, a fact that is highlighted in Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s Grand Jury report,” said Senator Santarsiero.  “We must protect our communities and keep families safe in their homes by increasing the distance unconventional gas drilling operations must be from buildings and water supplies.”

“The Attorney General’s report showed that natural gas drilling operations can have serious impacts on our health, safety, and well-being and those impacts are amplified by proximity. Drilling operations don’t belong in the middle of our neighborhoods or near schools, hospitals, or our water resources,” Senator Comitta said. “It’s time to enact safer setbacks to better protect Pennsylvania families, children, and communities from the potential for the significant, negative health impacts associated with fracking.” END OF PRESS RELEASE

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My sincere thanks go out to Senator Muth, and all the other legislators in Harrisburg, who fully understand these serious public health issues. My involvement as a fractivist began 13 years ago, when the frackers were actually dumping their liquid waste at sewage plants along the Monongahela River, ones that were never designed to handle that toxic waste stream, into the source of my family’s drinking water!
Thanks to professor Ben Stout of Wheeling Jesuit University, we got a look at what some of that toxic waste contained, in this West Virginia D.E.P. analysis:
Waste facilities were getting 5 cents per gallon and liked getting about $200 per tanker truck load. Public water treatment plants started going haywire, trying to treat the river water for public consumption, while trihalomethane levels went wild. As in ‘Wild West’ style fracking in western Pennsylvania. One of the trihalomethanes is CHLOROFORM. It’s no wonder the City of Pittsburgh banned fracking!
Legislators need to do the right thing for Pennsylvanians now, this year, abiding by their oath of office, which clearly includes our state Constitution’s guarantee to citizens, of their Right to “clean air and pure water.”
Notice the Constitution doesn’t say ‘clean’ water, it says ‘PURE’ water!
Bob
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