This week, the Trump Administration suggested slashing the budgets of some government agencies, in particular the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Around the same time, Earthworks released an in-depth report on how air pollution can be made worse in the absence of federal law and EPA oversight.
The report, Permitted to Pollute: How oil and gas operators and regulators exploit clean air protections and put the public at risk, is the result of more than a year of research focusing on three natural gas processing and transmission facilities in southwestern Pennsylvania.
When elected officials bow and scrape to the oil and gas industry, they often use the false rhetoric of “job killing” and “burdensome” regulations. Last week, the inappropriately-named Jim Justice, Governor of West Virginia, didn’t even bother with that smokescreen.
According to investigative coverage by the Charleston Gazette, Gov. Justice recently ordered the Department of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) to kill a requirement that protects residents from the noise and light caused by oil and gas operations.
Since the onset of the fracking boom nearly a decade ago, the oil and gas industry has fought to prevent effective state oversight of its Pennsylvania operations. The Marcellus Shale Coalition’s (MSC) current lawsuit to block updated regulations (Chapter 78A) for shale wells is a clear signal that industry has no plans to change its usual, harmful tune.
With state palns in development to cut oil and gas methane pollution, as well as anti-environmental bills in the legislature, Pennsylvanians can only hope that Governor Wolf and legislative leaders have finally learned their lesson: always put the public interest first, and don’t believe industry’s false promises.
Whatever the cause and however extensive, a fire’s sheer destructive power always captures attention. The recent explosion and fire at a New Mexico oil field quickly grabbed headlines with images of roiling flames, thick smoke, and stories of residents forced to evacuate. Concerns remain about air quality, the lack of any evacuation plan, and health as WPX Energy, owner of the site, let the fire burn itself out—releasing toxins into the air in the process.
It’s logical and not that unusual for a drilling site to catch fire; both oil and natural gas are highly combustible and flammable. Yet the photos from the New Mexico fire reveal that several tanks used to store waste were also burning intensely.
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.
This comes in the form of very bad bills that would derail much needed upgrades to oil and gas regulations, allow large industries to opt out of energy efficiency requirements, and delay air emission reductions. Legislators even want to give themselves more power to block health, safety, and environmental regulations.
Late last week, John Quigley, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, abruptly resigned. News reports pointed to a controversial email in which Mr. Quigley angrily demanded that environmental groups more boldly defend proposed oil and gas regulations.
It didn’t take long for some legislators to accuse Mr. Quigley of governmental impropriety. In the meantime, the email controversy continues to generate media stories.
Oil and gas field residents ask important questions, such as “Are the wells and facilities polluting the air?” and "Is that why I’m sick?” Unfortunately, industry representatives and some elected officials often give dismissive answers, like “Natural gas is clean” and “There’s only anecdotal evidence of health problems.”
Well, hundreds of peer-reviewed studies and much community air testing later, it’s getting harder to hide an essential fact: oil and gas development causes air (and water) pollution and harms health. Increasingly, there’s also visual evidence, thanks to infrared cameras that make pollution invisible to the naked eye, visible to the world.