Appalachian Basin

Earthworks Capitalizes on COVID-19 Fears to Falsely Accuse PA DEP of Lack of Oversight

Armed with absolutely no evidence, ”Keep It In the Ground” activists Earthworks recently accused Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection of failing to adequately inspect contamination complaints during the COVID-19 outbreak. This serious accusation was not only false, but also a wholly irresponsible attempt to cause unnecessary alarm when public health and safety concerns are at an all-time high.

This isn’t the first time Pennsylvania’s activist network has tried to capitalize on the fear and anxiety of residents during a crisis. PennEnvironment showed images of a rig in Pakistan claiming the “devastation” was in Pennsylvania after severe flooding in 2011. Despite attempting to shift the blame to its researchers, The Frontier Group – which was later used for yet another study – PennEnvironment also used images of “toxic pollution” in South Africa claiming it was America.

Earthworks’ False Accusation

Earthworks’ Melissa Troutman submitted a complaint to DEP citing drone footage of reddish stains on the ground originating from a wastewater containment tank. DEP responded within one business day and its waste management program personnel inspected the site.

Despite DEP’s prompt response, Earthworks spread misinformation claiming that natural gas field contamination complaints are deemed non-essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, which would therefore allow oil and natural gas facilities to operate “without proper oversight and enforcement to protect public health.”

The Hard-Hitting Truth

In response to Earthworks’ accusations, DEP’s Neil Shrader explained:

“To limit exposure to and spread of the virus, DEP is currently prioritizing field inspections of critical infrastructure and inspections that are critical to public health and safety. DEP will continue to receive and review public complaints and will prioritize complaint inspections on a case-by-case basis during this unprecedented time.”

Adding insult to injury, Earthworks’ complaint was completely unfounded. The reddish stains have been there since last August when one of the tanks experienced a small leak when placed into service, leaving a permanent stain on the white liner material in the containment area. Nevertheless, DEP conducted an in-person inspection to confirm that there was no change in the staining, and that no new leaks or spills had occurred.

Earthworks has similarly flooded the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality in recent years with complaints about emissions on wells sites in the Permian. Those complaints more often than not prove to be baseless, but as was the case in Pennsylvania, haven’t prevented the group from spreading misinformation about oil and natural gas operations in the region. As The Texan recently reported:

Of the 58 recorded Earthworks complaints, in all but four cases, no violation had been issued after an investigation was approved. While it is still possible a violation may be levied (especially regarding more recent complaints), by and large, it remains likely no violation will be issued if a TCEQ investigation found no legitimacy to the particular complaint.” (emphasis added)

Earthworks’ latest stunt is an attempt to avoid losing any ink to the coronavirus outbreak and to capitalize on the very real fears and anxieties of Pennsylvanians during this uncertain time. While KIITG activists continue to further false narratives, the industry is hard at work finding innovative ways to support their local communities.

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