GERALD SMITH: What Natural Gas Task Force should know
Thanks to Pennsylvania Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley for his words at the Indiana County Natural Gas Task Force this month. Thanks also to him for asking us to focus on the facts, and not anecdotes. It is unfortunate, however, that the lieutenant governor failed to get some of his own facts right -- suggesting that there's been no contamination of water from fracking, that the DEP is adequately funded and staffed, and that the industry hasn't asked for anything.
Here are some important facts that the Coalition for a Healthy County hopes the Indiana County Natural Gas Task Force will consider:
- The fact is that elevated bromide levels in Pennsylvania waterways are a direct result of improperly treated toxic waste fluid generated by Marcellus shale fracking.
- The fact is that several Marcellus shale fracking companies, including Chesapeake, Cabot Oil and Gas, and Catalyst, are being sued for polluting waterways and private wells.
- The fact is that a recent study from Duke University found that drinking wells within one kilometer of MS fracking sites were 17 times more likely to be contaminated with deep shale methane.
- The fact is that many of the chemicals used for MS drilling are harmful for the environment in extremely low concentrations (parts per billion, and parts per trillion).
- Despite the enormous volume of water mixed with chemicals used for fracking, the process is largely exempt from the Safe Drinking Water Act.
- The fact is that our own state legislators, including Rep. Dave Reed, have acknowledged that regulations and laws in Pennsylvania are behind in ensuring our waters, air and health are protected, yet DEP continues to issue permits.
- The fact is that out-of-state companies are dominating the MS industry, are putting local shallow gas drillers out of business, and are buying up leases in sensitive areas preparing to drill. For example, the entire 6,000-acre conservation zone that surrounds Yellow Creek State Park is currently under lease.
- The fact is that DEP's budget was slashed to pre-1994 levels by Gov. Tom Corbett's budget proposal, and is slated to receive a further cut of $2 million in the recently passed House budget.
- The fact is that DEP is overwhelmed with permit applications, and reported that they spend as little as a half-hour reviewing permit applications, and they deny less than one-half of 1 percent.
- The fact is that this permit application does not consider local ordinances. For example, the MDS application was approved by DEP, but denied by the Indiana County Zoning Board.
- The fact is that while water quality is a proven concern, other issues like air quality from increased industrial activity and methane seepage, as well as cumulative impacts to health and the environment of drilling a projected 60,000 wells in the next 20 years have not been addressed.
- The fact is that millions of gallons of toxic frack fluid have already been left in completed wells; if it has not already been shown to have leaked, no hydrogeologist can guarantee that leaving this much toxic fluid underground will continue to have no effect on our health, or the environment.
- The fact is that the cumulative environmental effects of deep shale fracking seriously diminishes its advantages over burning coal or oil.
The fact is that this industry and our state elected officials are asking Pennsylvanians for an awful lot. They're asking us to ignore all of these facts, and just trust that Marcellus shale drilling will provide nothing but economic prosperity. They're asking us to accept the premise that the best way to proceed is to drill first, and test later. They're asking Pennsylvanians to allow our state to continue to be a zone of national sacrifice, risking the environmental recovery that much of our state has made from the effects of coal mining, all for a new fossil fuel.
The Coalition for a Healthy County calls on our county commissioners and the Indiana County Natural Gas Task Force not to ignore these facts.
But instead to use all the facts to challenge the protections and regulations that the state has deemed "adequate," and to craft policy that will ensure the economic prosperity promised by this industry is not offset by long-term damage to our heath and our environment.
The Coalition for a Healthy County includes Friends of Yellow Creek, the Sierra Club Allegheny Group, the Yellow Creek Conservation Association, the Central Indiana Water Council, the Friends of White's Woods, the IUP ECO Club and Penn Environment.