Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro on Thursday released a scathing grand jury report on the state’s Marcellus Shale natural gas industry that not only outlines health and safety issues caused by hydraulic fracturing, but also takes to task the chief agency in charge of enforcing regulations on the industry.
“Their relationship is too cozy,” Shapiro said, adding that DEP officials testifying to the grand jury were merely reciting industry talking points. He cited an instance where an energy company hired seven former employees from the same DEP office.
Shapiro noted that the Marcellus Shale exploration industry stretches back 16 years, using hydraulic fracturing, known as fracking, to access gas deep within shale pockets. He gave the Wolf administration credit for taking steps toward addressing longstanding problems, but said more needs to be done to close a “profound gap” between what is needed and “the realities facing Pennsylvanians in the shadows of fracking drills.”
Environmental groups and the DEP both say many of the issues stem from the administration of Gov. Tom Corbett, who was defeated by Wolf, who took office in 2015. However, issues surrounding the industry began as far back as the Rendell administration, when the natural gas industry really began to boom.
Shapiro cited testimony from residents who live near fracking sites that included a woman who said her family started getting sores all over and became sick to their stomachs, and had trouble breathing. Others spoke of black sludge or slime clogging well-water pumps that cost homeowners thousands of dollars to fix.
The grand jurors cited testimony by a senior toxicologist with the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. The toxicologist told of visiting a homeowner who had been told by the DEP that his water was safe to drink. He went to the kitchen sink and filled a glass with what looked like “swamp water.”
“For over a decade, the fracking industry has run roughshod over the people of Pennsylvania,” said Joseph Otis Minott, executive director of the Clean Air Council, in a statement. “The grand jury’s report reveals the tragic consequences of our state government’s hands-off approach to fracking. The gas industry has destroyed too many lives and livelihoods.”
A DEP statement says the Wolf administration “inherited a flawed ideological approach to regulation of unconventional oil and gas development that was forced on the Departments of Environmental Protection and Health by the Corbett administration, which promoted the rapid expansion of natural gas development and profit above these other priorities.”
It says the administration has taken steps to implement new environmental regulations, seek a “reasonable severance tax on natural gas” and enforcement actions including increased inspections of well sites, pipelines and other natural gas facilities. The DEP says it has issued more than $67.5 million in penalties to oil and gas companies.
“The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who work across the sector – building and union trades, professional engineers, environmental professionals, health and safety experts, as well as exploration and production companies that contract with hydraulic fracturing service providers, midstream companies and countless other Pennsylvania-based small, family-owned businesses – have every reason to place the highest value on regulatory compliance and transparency,” Spigelmyer said.
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