Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Pennsylvania Declares Victory on Oil and Gas Regs While Failing to Protect Residents Health

Energy
Pennsylvania Declares Victory on Oil and Gas Regs While Failing to Protect Residents Health

Thanks to a bill passed this June by the state legislature, Pennsylvania now has the dubious distinction of being the only state in the nation to abandon oil and gas regulations after they've been fully developed and publicly reviewed. While other states have modernized oil and gas oversight in the wake of the shale boom, no other state has exempted a major part of the oil and gas industry in the process.

The Oil and Gas Threat Map shows where all areas across the country within 1/2 mile of an active oil and gas well, and counties with elevated cancer risk due to oil and gas air toxics.

But that's exactly what SB 279 does. Called the Penn Grade Crude Development Advisory Council bill, it wipes out updated environmental protection requirements for conventional oil and gas operations (known as Chapter 78). In effect, 178 state representatives and senators just overturned what it took five years, 12 public hearings, 30,000 public comments and affirmative votes by public regulatory commissions and the legislature to accomplish.

Unfortunately, Gov. Wolf just signed SB 279 into law, sounding the death knell for Chapter 78 in the process. Equally unfortunate, official statements from his administration have completely ignored the negative impact SB 279 will have on Pennsylvanians—even as the Governor declares victory for new rules that will go into effect only for unconventional oil and gas operations.

Such political spin may be Harrisburg's status quo, but in this case it's a dangerous affront to Pennsylvanians whose air, water and health is damaged by oil and gas development..

On the same day as the SB 279 vote, the Clean Air Task Force (CATF), Earthworks and the FracTracker Alliance released OilandGasThreatMap.com. Using state well location data and U.S. Census Bureau data, it shows that nearly 25 percent of Pennsylvania's population lives within a half-mile of oil and gas wells and facilities—a distance at which serious health impacts are most clearly linked, according to the majority of peer-reviewed science.

Threatened residents include large proportions of several Pennsylvania counties including Warren (86 percent); McKean (72 percent); Venango (58 percent); and Forest (30 percent). Data from the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) show that in 2014, those four counties comprised more than 90 percent of all the conventional oil and gas wells drilled statewide.

According to the accompanying report, Fossil Fumes (by CATF with support from the Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment and Earthworks), eight Pennsylvania counties have an elevated cancer risk directly attributable to toxic emissions from oil and gas operations (Armstrong, Clarion, Fayette, Forest, Greene, Indiana, Jefferson and Washington). DEP data indicate that 60-99 percent of all active oil and gas wells in these counties are conventional ones.

Throughout the long debate over Chapter 78, the oil and gas industry and its legislative champions propagated the fantasy that conventional operations have limited, if any, environmental and health impacts. Yet just like their shale-drilling cousins, modern-day conventional activities rely on hydraulic fracturing and chemicals, generate toxic waste, and cause hazardous spills and air pollution.

In fact, between 2008-2014, conventional operators were responsible for 60 percent of the cases in which oil and gas activities contaminated the private water supplies of Pennsylvanians. In 2014, conventional drillers were responsible for three-quarters of regulatory violations issued by DEP. Conventional operations are clearly a big problem with which a vastly understaffed DEP will have to continue to contend, though now without the benefit of stronger regulations.

Another part of SB 279 requires the use of public funds to run an advisory council made up primarily of oil and gas industry representatives.

So not only does the bill eliminate environmental protections from oil and gas operations, it holds any future attempts to improve them hostage to oil and gas industry interests. This runs directly counter to the public interest and epitomizes the misplaced legislative priorities that SB 279 represents.

One can only hope that going forward, elected officials will find the courage to stand up to this undue industry pressure and finally give Pennsylvanians the respect and environmental protections they deserve.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

Interactive Map Shows Where Toxic Air Pollution From Oil and Gas Industry Is Threatening 12.4 Million Americans

Pipeline Ruptures Spilling 29,000 Gallons of Oil, Just Hours After Obama Signs PIPES Act

Obama Fracking Rule Struck Down by Federal Judge

How Radioactive Fracking Waste Wound Up Near Homes and Schools

With restaurants and supermarkets becoming less viable options during the pandemic, there has been a growth in demand and supply of local food. Baker County Tourism Travel Baker County / Flickr

By Robin Scher

Beyond the questions surrounding the availability, effectiveness and safety of a vaccine, the COVID-19 pandemic has led us to question where our food is coming from and whether we will have enough.

Read More Show Less

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

Read More Show Less

Trending

A technician inspects a bitcoin mining operation at Bitfarms in Saint Hyacinthe, Quebec on March 19, 2018. LARS HAGBERG / AFP via Getty Images

As bitcoin's fortunes and prominence rise, so do concerns about its environmental impact.

Read More Show Less
OR-93 traveled hundreds of miles from Oregon to California. Austin Smith Jr. / Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs / California Department of Fish and Wildlife

An Oregon-born wolf named OR-93 has sparked conservation hopes with a historic journey into California.

Read More Show Less
A plume of exhaust extends from the Mitchell Power Station, a coal-fired power plant built along the Monongahela River, 20 miles southwest of Pittsburgh, on Sept. 24, 2013 in New Eagle, Pennsylvania. The plant, owned by FirstEnergy, was retired the following month. Jeff Swensen / Getty Images

By David Drake and Jeffrey York

The Research Brief is a short take about interesting academic work.

The Big Idea

People often point to plunging natural gas prices as the reason U.S. coal-fired power plants have been shutting down at a faster pace in recent years. However, new research shows two other forces had a much larger effect: federal regulation and a well-funded activist campaign that launched in 2011 with the goal of ending coal power.

Read More Show Less