Appalachian Basin

Pittsburgh Mayor Dismisses Facts, Science in Speech to Fracking Protesters

The City of Pittsburgh hosted one of the largest regional gatherings of natural gas and oil industry CEOs, elected officials and thought leaders this week during the annual Shale Insight conference. But while discussions inside the conference on important topics like energy security, energy poverty, health as it relates to shale development and the incredible economic impact the region has seen from record-shattering natural gas production were ongoing, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto was outside giving a speech to a small gathering of protesters seeking to halt Pennsylvania’s shale development and the industries it is attracting to the region.

During his comments, the mayor made no mention of the incredible economic impact the City of Pittsburgh and the Pittsburgh metropolitan area have experienced from this development. Nor did he bring up the myriad of studies showing fracking has not been a threat to the region’s water and that its air has improved over the last decade of shale development. Instead, he proudly discussed the city’s ban on fracking – which he helped get enacted in his former capacity as a city councilman – describing it as “the first ban on fracking in the world” and implied that under his administration the city would fight “many, many battles” against the shale-related industries that are helping the region to prosper, saying:

“It’s always been about the water.”

“You know, 200 years ago people came from Europe – 300 years ago from Europe – and they looked at the water and saw a way to get from one point to another. And they built factories along the water, and they became the roadways that went out to the West. Today we understand our rivers is something such, more important than a roadway. We see it as the sustaining of life once again. And it’s always been about Pittsburgh – our rivers, our water.”

“We all know nothing is more important to life than clean and abundant water. Western Pennsylvania is blessed with this resource, and we must all work together to protect it. The Mayor’s office has long fought for this cause. Mayor David Lawrence, with the support of Richard King Mellon and other leaders, recognized this and pushed through the nation’s first Clean Air and Clean Water Act in the 1940s. In 2010, along with Councilman Doug Shields who’s with us, City Council was able to push forth the first ban on fracking in the world. The City of Pittsburgh has paid its price through the first industrial revolution. We had worked in order to be able to take the steps to clean our air and clean our water, and we weren’t going to take that step backwards.”

Yes, listen there are many, many battles that will be fought. It doesn’t start and it doesn’t end on one day. It’s a continuation of many different types of industries that will be legacy industries of what was Pittsburgh. The question is what will we do here to play offense and not continually try to play defense? The opportunities are abundant.  This begins, and it starts, with what we do with our air and with our water. And we look forward to partnering with all of you, and with all those different battles, in order to make sure that Western Pennsylvania preservation of our air and water is at the foremost front of what we do as a region.”

What Mayor Peduto’s speech lacked was all of the evidence demonstrating that Pittsburgh can have a future that is both prosperous and protective of the environment – and it’s already doing so thanks to the shale it sits upon.

Pittsburgh Sees Benefits of Shale Development

The Pittsburgh metropolitan area – a 10-county region in Southwestern Pa. – has been hailed as the potential energy capital thanks to shale development in the region. By 2016, 36 “leading energy companies” had established headquarters in the metropolitan area, regionally employing an estimated 27,980 people, according to the Pittsburgh Regional Alliance. It’s also helping to attract new manufacturing facilities and to spur reinvestment in what Peduto referred to as Pittsburgh’s “legacy industries” like U.S. Steel.

And that’s despite the ban on fracking that the Pittsburgh City Council pushed through in 2010 that prevents drilling within the actual city’s borders.

In stark contrast to the city’s ban on fracking, the broader Pittsburgh metropolitan region in 2017 represented nearly half of all wells drilled in the state, more than one-third of the natural gas produced (a whopping 2.1 trillion cubic feet), and has been the recipient of more than one-third of the total shale impact fees. And Allegheny County – where the city is located – has actually received the largest grants from the Marcellus Legacy Fund to date.

In fact, in 2014 the City of Pittsburgh received a Marcellus Legacy Fund grant for $802,990 for a PennWorks project to “construct, expand or improve water and wastewater infrastructure related to economic development.” Those funds have since been renewed for the project at the former mill facility at Lawrenceville Technology. In other words, the shale industry contributed nearly a million dollars to help the city improve its water quality, and yet that was never mentioned in a speech from the leader of the city about protecting water quality for future generations.

Further, Mayor Peduto failed to mention that more than 30 peer-reviewed studies and scientific reports have found that fracking is not a threat to groundwater, many of which have been focused on Pennsylvania. In just the last year, those Pennsylvania reports include:

  • Department of Environmental Protection (2018): “[T]here is no evidence that hydraulic fracturing has resulted in a direct impact to a water supply in Pennsylvania.”
  • Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (2018): “Water quality monitoring efforts by the bureau and its partners have not raised significant concerns on state forest headwater streams to date.”
  • Yale University (2018): “Collectively, our observations suggest that [shale gas development] was an unlikely source of methane in our valley wells.”
  • Penn State University (2018): “The most interesting thing we discovered was the groundwater chemistry in one of the areas most heavily developed for shale gas – an area with 1400 new gas wells – does not appear to be getting worse with time, and may even be getting better.”
  • Department of Environmental Protection (2018): “[T]he majority of wells in the state are being operated in a manner that greatly reduces the risk for groundwater impacts.”
  • Susquehanna River Basin Commission (2017): “To date, the Commission’s network of monitors has not detected discernible impacts [from shale development] on the Basin’s water resources…”

Similarly, there are a multitude of studies and reports finding that Pennsylvania’s air quality has improved since the shale revolution began, in large part because of the switch to natural gas-fired power generation that has been spurred by the abundance of gas in the region. They also show that the oil and natural gas industry has reduced its emissions at the same time as this production has soared.

  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2018): The air emissions trend report data show Pennsylvania reduced sulfur dioxide emissions 69 percent from 2002 to 2014, with the Appalachian Basin seeing a total reduction of 72 percent during this time period.
  • Department of Health (2018): “Based on the air sampling collected from July 2012 to July 2013, exposure to the contaminant levels found in ambient air are not expected to harm healthy individuals.”
    • “The measured concentrations of acetaldehyde are substantially lower than those observed to have caused health effects in animals and humans based on scientific research studies. … The calculated additional cancer risk for this chemical is very low. Therefore, long-term acetaldehyde inhalation exposures at the levels detected by PADEP in this project are not expected to harm people’s health.”
    • “The measured concentrations of benzene are substantially lower than those observed to have caused health effects in humans and animals based on scientific research studies, and are similar to background levels measured in this project and in rural areas of the United States. The calculated additional cancer risk for this chemical is very low. Therefore, long-term benzene inhalation exposures at the levels detected by PADEP in this project are not expected to harm people’s health.”
    • “The measured concentrations of formaldehyde are substantially lower than those observed to have caused cancer health effects in humans based on scientific research studies, and are consistent with background levels measured in the United States.”
    • “The general population of healthy and sensitive individuals are not expected to experience harmful effects from PM2.5 exposure at the levels found in the PADEP long term air data set.”
  • Department of Environmental Protection (2018): At the primary criteria pollutant monitoring site, the pollutants that were monitored – ozone, nitrogen dioxide (NO2), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and carbon monoxide (CO) – did not exceed “the applicable [National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS)] or [indicate] a probable future exceedance based on the data pattern.” Further, the patterns from measured concentrations “did not indicate a localized source impact which would cause exceedance of any of the NAAQS evaluated.” The primary site also had “significantly fewer” Air Quality Index days that were less than “Good” compared to similar monitoring sites. The monitoring sites and background sites showed no significant difference “in either cumulative estimated Excess Lifetime Cancer Risk (ELCR) or cumulative chronic non-cancer Hazard Quotient (HQ).” “All four of the project HAP monitoring sites had a cumulative ELCR and HQ that were comparable to another historical Commonwealth VOC background concentration ambient monitoring site.”
  • U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (2018): EPA data show Pennsylvania reduced its carbon emissions 17 percent and its carbon emissions from electricity generation 29.5 percent from 2005 to 2015. Overall, the Appalachian Basin saw the most significant U.S. reductions at 18 and 21.5 percent, respectively, during this time period.
  • University of Maryland’s 2017 study was retracted in 2018 because: “[T]he original wind measurements led to an overestimate of methane emissions from oil and natural gas operations. A reanalysis with corrected winds reduced the total estimated emissions by about a factor of 1.7, with a correspondingly larger reduction in emissions of methane attributed to oil and natural gas in the southwestern Marcellus Shale area. This is expected to reverse a conclusion of the paper, which had asserted that leakage from oil and natural gas extraction in this region results in a climate penalty compared to the use of coal.”
  • Department of Environmental Protection (2017): “The average methane reported from each mid-stream compressor station decreased from 106.9 tons in 2012 to 97.5 tons in 2015. The average emission per well site was 8.3 tons in 2012 and 5.8 tons in 2015. Year to year changes in other emissions are related to a variety of factors, including where wells are drilled and types of equipment being used.”
  • Penn State University (2017): “It seems like natural gas is a good solution now, at least for the Marcellus Shale. Our results clearly suggest that it’s a clean source of energy. And on top of that, we can suggest a lot of gas with a very low leakage [0.4 percent] overall from the infrastructure.”
  • Department of Environmental Protection (2017): “[In 2015] harmful pollutants like nitrogen oxides (NOx), sulfur dioxide (SOx) and particulate matter (PM2.5) all saw decreases from 2014 emission levels [six percent, 31.5 percent and 22 percent, respectively].”

The bottom line: Pittsburgh – both the city and the 10-county region – are experiencing the benefits of shale development in a manner that is protective of the environment in the region. And that’s something everyone who headed to Pittsburgh this week – whether to attend the conference or the small protest outside – should be celebrating.

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