Public officials swear an oath to protect the people they serve. But what happens when your officials make decisions that put your health, home, or life at risk? UPDATE (March 30, 2015 11:00 AM Eastern): According to 9-year […]
First, I would like to point out that regulations will not accomplish their protective goals unless there is good enforcement of the regulations. This must be done by levying fines high enough to act as a deterrent. Otherwise, there will be ‘’bad actors” making the same mistakes and repeated violations over and over again. I would also like to point out the current proposed state budget will cut staffing at the DEP, not reassuring for an agency responsible for protecting the health of Pennsylvania citizens and preserving its environment. It also cannot be stressed too much regarding Pennsylvania’s unfortunate legacy of promoting resource extraction over the well being of current and future generations. It took a century for forests to re-establish after the clear cutting by the timber industry. And we are still dealing with the aftermath of coal mining with acid mine drainage polluting our waters.
We at Public Herald get crushes kind of often. Our latest one is on Mission & State, a new in-depth journalism project in Santa Barbara, California. Like so many other great connections, we discovered M&S because of fracking. Yes, thanks to that highly controversial and dangerous drilling process formerly known as horizontal slickwater hydraulic fracturing, we’ve met some really amazing people. Fracking is only one part of Mission & State’s coverage of news in and around Santa Barbara, which finds itself atop the oil and gas rich Monterey Shale, a bedrock formation with average depths of over 11,000 feet underground according to National Geographic. Check out Mission & State’s coverage of the ‘urchin and caviar’ politics surrounding the fracking debate in California.
My name is Joshua Pribanic. I am here to submit comment as the Editor-in-Chief of Public Herald and as the co-director of the documentary on fracking, Triple Divide. Public Herald is an investigative news nonprofit, and while we advocate for truth and justice for all, we are not an activist organization, academic institution, or political entity. We are for truth and creativity in the public interest. My comments here are mostly my own editorial but also part of what’s in the 90 minutes of Triple Divide, where myself and Melissa Troutman report on how DEP and industry are handling the negative impacts of fracking. I want to first comment on the background and purpose of the proposed regulations. In hindsight, the purpose of the proposed regulations are first an overall admission to the public that fracking is a new technology which needs to be regulated differently, and secondly that DEP regulations used to protect the public resources from fracking for the past 10 years have been pathetically out-of-date. In fact, the proposed regulations tonight are stated by DEP to quote “be on the forefront of the curve” for how the Department will protect Pennsylvania’s resources. This accomplishment really deserves an applause [sarcasm] (applaud here)! However, after what I know about researching DEP’s GMI case files, or what’s riddled throughout DEP’s complaint files, these regulations are nothing more than a freshman level attempt to regulate fracking. A case in point is the proposed Abandoned oil and gas well section, § 78.52a. The regulations would require that an operator identify abandoned oil and gas wells within 1000ft of their vertical and horizontal wellbore, report the findings, then use “sensory monitoring” of the abandoned wells to alert DEP when and where a problem may occur. So, I had to check my calendar on this one to be sure I was still in the 21st century since the sensory monitoring proposed is not something from a mechanical measuring device, but is instead akin to a “sniff test” by industry workers. A sniff test. Not an air monitoring device, not a water monitoring device inside the abandoned well, but a sniff test. It’s a proven fact that abandoned wells in Pennsylvania act as pathways for both biogenic and thermogenic gases, and EPA research dating back to a 1989 study on Class II Injection Wells found that abandoned wells will often communicate with nearby injection wells resulting in the transmission of contaminants to the surface. But these are not problems that can be effectively monitored visually, or even by the expert nose of Scott Perry. Gases are invisible. The over 250,000 abandoned wells will have cracked casings and cracked cementing, where fluids can escape before reaching the surface. And when gases from nearby fracked wells communicate with the abandoned well they’ll be released into the atmosphere undetected by the new “highly trained visual monitor guy.” The public deserves to have regulations that are in fact, “on the forefront of the curve.” This proposed regulation is a hangman solution leaving the public resources tied to a noose, vulnerable to reactionary measures and further contamination. The regulatory solution here is simple. When an abandoned well is located DEP should plug it. Afterward, it can be monitored using the best science available for detecting gas emissions at the surface. Before I finish I want to read this beautiful passage under the section § 78.62 on the disposal of residual waste, or pits. Section § 78.62: “Disposal of residual waste—pits. The proposed amendments to this section clarify that solid waste generated by hydraulic fracturing of unconventional wells or processing wastewater under § 78.58 (relating to onsite processing) may not be disposed of in a pit on the well site. However, residual waste, including contaminated drill cuttings, can be disposed of in a pit on the well site. I repeat for all the homeowners in the room with well pads on their property or for wells on public lands, “residual waste, including contaminated drill cuttings, can be disposed of in a pit on the well site.” A.k.a. it’s buried; it’s buried without your permission or you knowing about it. But it’s fine [sarcasm] since it’s required to be buried 20” above the Seasonal High Water Table.
Triple Divide, a fracking documentary the Scranton Times Leader called “a bombshell that could reverberate across the state,” is headed to New York for a month of screenings and discussion with the journalists who created it, Melissa Troutman and Joshua Pribanic, visiting towns from western New York to the Big Apple. New York is the third leg of the documentary’s national tour across shale regions of the United States and will be at the Wellsville Creative Arts Center on January 24th at 8:00 p.m. Wellsville is directly downstream from the documentary’s namesake, the triple continental divide in Potter County, Pa. where the Genesee River is born. It’s also where the Allegheny River in with New York. Reviews of Triple Divide call it the only documentary on the controversial subject of fracking capable of speaking to all sides. “Even if you have differences, you have to find common ground to speak about this,” says a Pennsylvania organic dairy farmer in the film.
What was once a laborious, mishandled process for public access to information about oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania still is... but in the past several years it’s improved ever since unconventional shale drilling (a.k.a. fracking) hit the Keystone State like a rototiller on steroids. And despite a sleek new mapping tool recently launched by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), the real secret in the sauce — fracking sauce that is — is still as elusive as ever. frac_focus_depState and federal regulations continue to allow drillers to keep their fracking mixtures “trade secrets” while also permitting them to pump the poisons into the ground. Sure, some companies report some of the chemicals they use on “Frac Frocus” (Frac Focus) which DEP links to under the Resources tab of its data tool, but what's a recipe without all the ingredients? DEP doesn’t control the laws leaders write, it can only enforce them — or not. (For those details see “File Review” below.) So no fracking chemical listings for the well in your backyard, kids. But at least DEP’s Oil and Gas Mapping system does have the state’s Exceptional Value (EV) and High Quality (HQ) waterways as an optional data layer (Check the link for more about drilling waste burial near these sensitive water supplies).