Appalachian Basin

Debunking Sen. Ferlo’s Anti-Fracking ‘Expert’ Panel

Pennsylvania State Senator Jim Ferlo recently held a meeting to discuss shale development in Allegheny County parks.  The event hosted a panel of “experts” on shale development, but five minutes into the first presentation it was clear that these were self-appointed experts, not real ones.

The panel included Lynda Farrel of the Pipeline Safety Coalition, Erika Staaf from Penn Environment, Dr. Cynthia Walter representing Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group, and former Pittsburgh City Council President, Doug Shields.  All one hundred or so people in attendance appeared to be against any sort of shale gas development, which was to be expected given the organizer, Jim Ferlo, is looking to pass a statewide ban on shale.

Each panelist gave a five minute presentation followed by a question and answer portion.  Here’s how it went:

Speaking first was Lynda Farrel, director of the Pipeline Safety Coalition (PSC).  Here’s what the PSC website lists as its mission:

“To gather and serve as a clearinghouse for factual, unbiased information; to increase public awareness and participation through education; to build partnerships with residents, safety advocates, government and industry; and to improve pubic, personal and environmental safety in pipeline issues.”

When “experts” feel bound to declare they’re unbiased, one can be fairly sure they’re anything but – and PSC is no exception.

Below, we’ll explore some of the more indefensible statements from this “expert forum,” and provide the facts that the public actually deserves.

Here’s Lynda Farrel opining about pipelines:

“The gathering lines right now in Pennsylvania are mostly unregulated. The industry can put those pipelines anywhere they want and there is no oversight for safety.”  1:50

FACT: Effective February 2012, Act 127 gave the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission power (PUC) to regulate all pipeline operators in Pennsylvania for pipeline safety purposes. The PUC will now apply all new safety standards to the design, installation, operation, inspection, testing, construction, extension, replacement, and maintenance of pipeline facilities.  Did Ms. Farrel not realize that, or was she guilty of using deliberate hyperbole?

Next up was Erica Staaf of Penn Environment – an organization that is most famous (infamous, really) for misrepresenting information and using misleading photos in “reports.” Thus, it’s hardly surprising Staaf led with this comment:

“Fracking has contaminated drinking water.” 9:09

FACT: No, it hasn’t. Ernest Moniz, Secretary of the U.S. Department of Energy, has stated: “To my knowledge, I still have not seen any evidence of fracking per se contaminating groundwater.” Additionally, the U.S. Geological Survey, in one of its recent reports, says “This new study is important in terms of finding no significant effects on groundwater quality from shale gas development within the area of sampling.”

Many other experts and regulators have come to precisely the same conclusion.

Staaf continued:

“Data from fracking wells show a 6-7 percent well failure rate from faulty well integrity.” 10:30

FACT: If activists are going to inflate fears about failure rates based on falsehoods, they should at least adopt a consistent talking point. Sometimes this number is 50 percent, sometimes it’s five percent, other times it’s 35 percent. No matter what they allege, though, the facts say otherwise.

For example, a 2011 report that examined more than 34,000 wells in Ohio found a failure rate of only 0.03 percent. A similar assessment in Texas (which looked at tens of thousands of more wells) showed a failure rate of only 0.01 percent. Room for improvement? Yes. Reason for alarm? Hardly.

Staaf later added:

“Trucks required to bring water to a single fracking well can cost as much damage to roads as 3.5 million car journeys.  That puts massive stress on roadways and bridges.  Pennsylvania estimates that repairing roads affected by Marcellus drilling could cost $265 million.” 13:39

FACT: What Staaf fails to mention is all that the industry is doing to fix and prevent the problems she describes, which left the audience with the assumption that operators simply tear up roads and skip town.  According to Terry McHenry, a PennDOT district inspection manager:

“When there is damage, companies submit a maintenance repair plan to PennDOT and pay contractors to fix the roads. In many cases drillers leave the roads in better shape than they found them.  In the end, I think we will have – in most cases, not in all cases – a better roadway system than before they got here.”

Again, as an “expert” on shale development, why does Ms. Staaf fail to give the audience this information?

Senator Ferlo also provided his own opinions:

“Thanks to our former Vice President Cheney this industry is exempt from six federal laws including the Clean Air Act and Clean Streams Act.” 16:45

FACT: No, it’s not. The Government Accountability Office determined that “requirements from eight federal environmental and public health laws apply to unconventional oil & gas development.” Among those? The Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act, the latter of which we assume is what Senator Ferlo was getting at, since there is no federal “Clean Streams Act.”

Last up to speak was a representative from the Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group, Dr. Cynthia Walter.  Walter attempted to convince the crowd the economic benefits from shale development were not important:

“If we look at the money that has been delivered versus the kind of income we already have in this state through more sustainable healthy sources, we see that Marcellus Shale is not that important.”  23:25

FACT: Not that important? A look at the revenue from Marcellus development in Washington County alone proves Dr. Walter to be absolutely wrong – unless you think $18 million in Washington County alone is “not that important.” As the Washington Observer-Reporter has noted:

“Over the past decade, Washington County received $8.8 million from royalties and leases related to gas extracted through wells at the 3,000-acre Cross Creek County Park. Washington and Greene counties also received seven-figure amounts from the state’s Act 13 Marcellus Shale impact fee. Add in $9 million Washington County received in impact fees, and the county has seen more than $18 million in Marcellus-related money coming into the treasury.”

Unfortunately, Senator Ferlo’s handpicked panel of pseudo-experts and the content of their presentations were designed to instill fear and push an anti-development agenda. It’s little wonder, then, why the participants kept the facts at arm’s length.


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