Not Very Brotherly
EID Fact Checks Philadelphia’s Anti-Natural Gas, Anti-Hydraulic Fracturing Resolution
WASHINGTON – Sure, Wayne County, Pennsylvania may be more than 150 miles away from Philadelphia. And yes, it may be true that folks up there – who happen to live closer to Syracuse than they do Philly – may have a potential interest in leasing private land for the purpose of responsible natural gas exploration in the area. But why should any of that stop the city of Philadelphia from trying to shut the entire operation down?
This week, its city council officially put itself on record in support of hastening precisely that outcome, approving (unanimously) a resolution demanding that Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) – which is housed in New Jersey – deny a critical permit to an energy operator looking to produce natural gas clear on the other end of the state.
Now, is this the same clean-burning natural gas from the Marcellus that could “create nearly 200,000 jobs and generate more than $13 billion in Pennsylvania over the next decade,” according to today’sPittsburgh Tribune-Review? Indeed it is. Unfortunately, Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who remarkably serves as vice-chair of the city’s Commerce and Economic Development committee, doesn’t seem to be all that moved by the numbers. You see, the Marcellus doesn’t run through the southeastern corner of the state. So if Philadelphia can’t have it, the city council reasons — why should anyone else? (Btw: If you want to make your views known to DRBC before it renders a decision on the permit, click HERE – the window closes April 12)
Well, as you’d expect, the resolution passed by the city council this week targeting the use of hydraulic fracturing is a piece of work. How might it fare under the scrutiny of an EID fact check? Better than Villanova did against St. Mary’s, to be sure, but not as good as Temple did against Cornell (both lost).
“I knew the responsible thing to do was to send a strong message that drilling should not occur without an environmental impact statement,’ said Philadelphia City Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown, who sponsored the resolution.” (Reuters, 3/25/10)
A host of independent studies, conducted by EPA and the Ground Water Protection Council – which counts state ground water regulatory agencies among its membership – have determined that fracturing has never contaminated groundwater. Carol Browner, top energy and environmental advisor to President Obama, wrote this in a memo about hydraulic fracturing as President Clinton’s EPA chief:
- There is no evidence that the hydraulic fracturing at issue has resulted in any contamination or endangerment of underground sources of drinking water (USDW). … Moreover, given the horizontal and vertical distance between the drinking water well and the closest methane gas production wells, the possibility of contamination or endangerment of USDWs in the area is extremely remote.
More recently, Steve Heare – the EPA’s top drinking water regulator – said that he knew of no “documented cases that the hydro-fracking process was contaminating water supplies.” And just weeks ago, other top EPA officials appearing before a top committee of the United States Senate could not identify a single case in which fracturing has ever been shown to contaminate groundwater.
“Energy companies are currently NOT [ed. note: capital letters, hers] required by law to report the chemicals they are using, and legislation to end this loophole, the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act, sponsored by the Honorable Senator Casey and endorsed by 14 environmental organizations in Pennsylvania, is currently in committee in the United States Senate.”
1) No reporting of chemicals, huh? A detailed catalogue of solutions used in the fracturing process – which are almost entirely (more than 99.5 percent) comprised of water and playground sand – is available on the PA DEP’s website, as well as HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.
2) Mandated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), informational materials known as Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) are required to be kept at all well sites – and are available for use by emergency personnel responding to a potential disturbance. These sheets contain full listings of the materials involved in the fracturing process.
3) Hydraulic fracturing has never been directly regulated by EPA under federal law, nor has it benefited from a single “loophole” in it. The bipartisan 2005 energy bill, supported by then-Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), simply clarified the historic intent and execution of the existing statute, making clear that states – who have been regulating fracturing activities for more than a half century – were, are and will continue to be best-equipped to oversee this process.
The FRAC Act, however, would for the first time in the 36-year history of the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) strip energy-producing states of their ability to regulate this technology, handing outright authority over the process to EPA.
“There have already been cases of private well contamination due to fracking in Pennsylvania.”
PA DEP: “Responding to recent concerns expressed by residents of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, the Department of Environmental Protection has collected dozens of water supply samples in the Carter Road area and determined that nearby gas well hydro fracturing activity has not impacted local wells.” (Release, 3/27/09)
BONUS FACT CHECK
US Sen. Bob Casey, author of the anti-energy FRAC Act: “Senator Robert Casey, a Democrat, said hewould work hard to defeat any move to keep states as the regulators. ‘If that kind of provision were in it, that would be an area where I would want to spend a good deal of time either altering it or removing it,’ Casey told Reuters.” (Reuters, 3/25/10)
Any chance Sen. Casey consulted with his state’s sitting DEP secretary before registering that threat?
- DEP secretary John Hanger: “The public can be assured that as more and more wells are drilled to capitalize on our abundant natural-gas resources, DEP will remain vigilant in protecting the state’s rivers and streams.” (Philadelphia Inquirer, 10/20/09)
Sen. Casey’s FRAC Act could give EPA outright authority to regulate fracturing in energy-producing states, stripping states of their ability to closely and effectively regulate this technology. In an editorial entitled “Power play: Fracturing plan wrong, indefensible,” The Oklahoman writes this:
- “The latest power grab is an attempt to switch regulation of hydraulic fracturing from the states to the Environmental Protection Agency. … Some believe the technique poses harm to drinking water supplies. U.S. Rep. Dan Boren, D-Muskogee, disagrees and says the regulatory shift would be “disastrous for the industry.” … Legislation has been introduced in Congress to require companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process and allow the EPA to ensure compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act. This is a solution in search of a problem.” (6/15/09)
PA state Rep. Jim Christiana – author of a state resolution to maintain Pennsylvania’s ability to effectively regulate fracturing – said this about attempts from Sen. Casey and others to strips states of this right:
- “Recent efforts to regulate hydraulic fracturing under the Federal Safe Drinking Water Act, whichwould substantially increase the costs of producing our vast reserves of clean, domestic natural gas with no resulting environmental benefits, are unwarranted and were never intended by Congress or the Environmental Protection Agency. Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulatory program is among the most stringent in the United States and places great emphasis on protecting groundwater supplies. I believe that additional and costly Federal oversight is unnecessary and cost-prohibitive.” (Release,1/26/10)