PennEnvironment Report: Gas Development Endangers Vulnerable Populations

PennEnvironment is a statewide, citizen-based environmental advocacy organization. They’re been around for over 30 years, and their work has directly resulted in some of Pennsylvania’s best environmental protections. In their own words, they combine “independent research, practical ideas and tough-minded advocacy to overcome the opposition of powerful special interests and win real results for Pennsylvania’s environment.” Sometimes, their student volunteers knock on your door. Last week, PennEnvironment released a report on Gas Drilling in Pennsylvania: “In The Shadow of the Marcellus Boom: How Shale Gas Extraction Puts Vulnerable Pennsylvanians at Risk.”

Among the alarming conclusions:

“At every stage in the process, Marcellus Shale gas extraction creates risks for water pollution, including spills and leaks that can pollute waterways with chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing fluid and naturally occurring metals and salts from the shale formation that can be harmful to human health.”

“Extracting gas from the Marcellus Shale also creates hazardous air pollution from truck trips, pump engines, gases vented from wells, contaminants from processing plants, and fumes evaporating from wastewater ponds. Anecdotal reports suggest that living near gas extraction sites can cause health impacts, although little formal scientific study has been completed to date. Gas has also been documented to contaminate aquifers up to seven miles from a well site.”

The report also states:

“The Pennsylvania DEP recorded 241 violations of environmental regulations at Marcellus wells within two miles of different day care facilities, and 40 violations within two miles of individual schools, from January 2008 to June 2010 alone – not including traffic safety violations by tanker trucks.”

Within Two Miles of a Permitted PA Drilling Site, there are:

424 Daycare Facilities (104 within a 1-mile radius)
81 Schools (14 within a 1-mile radius)
11 Hospitals (2 within a 1-mile radius)

Foremost an action group, PennEnvironmental calls on federal, state and local governments to provide protection for “Pennsylvania’s vulnerable populations,” and has made the following worthy recommendations for government to consider.

  • The Commonwealth should designate pristine places and locations near where people live or work off-limits to gas extraction. This should include areas near day care facilities, schools, hospitals and other vulnerable populations.
  • The Commonwealth should ensure gas companies pay the full cost of gas extraction and clean-up through higher bonding requirements, impact fees and higher mandatory penalties for companies that break the law, pollute the environment, or put public health at risk.
  • The state should strengthen clean water laws, halt the use of toxic chemicals in the hydraulic fracturing process in favor of safer alternatives, increase the resources available to state regulators for enforcing the law, revoke drilling privileges for the worst offenders, and return erosion and sedimentation review authority to Pennsylvania’s County Conservation Districts to help manage the gas well permitting process.
  • The state should require gas companies to report important information to the general public as well as the DEP, including the types and amounts of chemicals used during drilling and fracturing and the composition and disposal of wastewater, in a timely fashion and on a well-by-well basis.

Current federal law exempts Natural Gas Extraction from regulation under key elements of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, and the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act. Additionally, the industry faces no federal obligation to account for quantities of potentially toxic chemicals left underground, or to report toxic emissions to the Toxic Release Inventory. The group maintains that federal government should end the special treatment for the gas industry and apply the nation’s core public health and environmental laws to gas extraction just as it would regulate any potential threat to public health or the environment.

“We’re calling on Pennsylvania to designate areas around schools, hospitals and day cares off limits to development of Marcellus Shale wells,” said Erika Staff, of PennEnvironment’s Research and Policy Center. [Source: Don Hopey, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 05, 2011]

Now if only the PA DEP had Suggestion Box.

For the entire 51-page study, visit:
http://www.pennenvironment.org/reports/clean-water/clean-water-program-reports/in-the-shadow-of-the-marcellus-boom

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