With the arrival of chilly nights in the Northeast, an annual debate begins over potential spikes in natural gas prices. It’s the season for operators to push pipeline expansion projects and to compare weather predictions with gas supply estimates.
Typically absent from the discussion are the impacts on residents who live near gas facilities—or in the case of gas storage, right on top of them. As Angel and Wayne Smith of Bedford County PA know all too well, this is a glaring and very troubling omission.
It took a reporter’s tenacious investigation, a public outcry, and continual requests by Earthworks, our partners, and many others, but the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has finally revealed the magic number. Late last week, the agency released a list of 248 cases of private water well contamination confirmed to be the result of oil and gas drilling since 2007. Pat Klotz from Bradford County isn’t on the list. But as Earthworks’ latest case study reveals, there’s reason to think she should have been.
What does it mean to be 'surrounded' by the fracking industry and oil and gas development? Is it a few wells in your neighborhood? A compressor station in your town?
For Pam Judy and her family in Carmichaels, Pennsylvania it's all that and more.
The Judy family’s home is 0.21 miles away from the closest well and 0.16 miles away from the Cumberland/Henderson compressor station. Within one mile of their home there are 16 unconventional and 21 conventional wells.
When a friend recently asked me how work was going, I told him about an investigative research project that Earthworks was finishing up. He responded with a quote by writer Kurt Vonnegut: “Another flaw in the human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do the maintenance.”
That about sums up the central conclusion of our new report, Blackout in the Gas Patch: How Pennsylvania Residents are Left in the Dark on Health and Enforcement—that as Pennsylvania’s government rushes to expand fracking, it is failing to protect air, water, and health. In other words, the state is more than willing to build the gas and oil industry, but is far less interested in making sure it functions well.
Pennsylvanians whose health and quality of life have been disrupted by gas development certainly have a personal “dog in the fight” for better industry oversight and accountability. But they might not have expected help in that quest from the state’s fiscal watchdog—who yesterday strongly criticized the ability of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to track problems and respond to the public.
In a report on DEP’s protection of water quality in the face of shale gas drilling, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale detailed serious lapses in how DEP works with drillers who have caused water pollution; communicates investigation results to residents; registers citizen complaints; conducts inspections of gas sites; and tracks waste.
That people are willing to work hard to save the places they know and love has long been a pillar of the conservation movement. So it’s no wonder that this principle also applies to efforts to prevent the damage caused by oil and gas development—and one of this year’s winners of the venerable Goldman Environmental Prize, attorney Helen Holden Slottje, has been saying it since the Marcellus shale boom began.
During a recent low-energy session of channel surfing, my mood was lifted by the broadcast of the original Wizard of Oz. As the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion sang of the need for a brain, a heart, and courage, the tale seemed serendipitous.
As reported earlier in Earthblog, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court exhibited all those qualities in striking down parts of Act 13 and upholding municipal zoning as a way to stem drilling damage, as well as the constitutional right of citizens to a clean environment. So did the Dallas City Council, which the week before enacted a restrictive zoning ordinance that puts health and property before industry convenience. Then the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General determined that the EPA was justified in its efforts to protect Texas residents from water contamination related to drilling.