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Friday, October 24, 2014

Drillers use loophole to avoid permits for using dangerous chemicals in fracking - UPDATED

This story from The Columbus (OH) Dispatch is essential reading. It reports on a study from the Environmental Integrity Project that finds that, despite a federal ban on the use of diesel fuel in hydraulic fracturing without a permit, some oil and gas companies are exploiting a Safe Drinking Water Act loophole to frack with petroleum-based products containing even more dangerous toxic chemicals than diesel - without any permits.

Fracking's Toxic Loophole finds that thanks to what's commonly referred to as the “Halliburton Loophole,” oil and gas producing companies are routinely injecting chemicals more toxic than diesel during hydraulic fracturing operations in at least 11 states. The list does not include Pennsylvania.

While fracking itself has yet to be proven to have contaminated groundwater, faulty wellsleaking impoundments, and spills surely have. 

The industry should have enough sense to stop using diesel and petroleum-based chemicals in fracking.  But since they apparently don't, the only way to eliminate the risk inherent in using them - both environmental and financial - is to outlaw it.  Now. And, while we're at it - if we're really serious - industry practice and regulations must drive to waterless, chemical-free fracking

October 26, 2014 update: While Pennsylvania was not on EIP's list, it's worth noting that diesel-based drilling fluids are apparently in use - and being spilled - here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Amid Marcellus boom, PA falls to dead last in job creation

According to an analysis of US Bureau of Labor Statistics data by the Keystone Research Center, Pennsylvania - the so-called "Saudi Arabia of natural gas" and home to the most productive natgas wells on earth - ranks dead last among US states in job creation since January, 2011.  When, not coincidentally, the current governor took office.  Before which it ranked 10th.

All-gas-all-the-time is not an economic development policy. At least, not a good one. Pennsylvania must start thinking ahead - and thinking differently - or it will repeat the mistakes of its past.

Like its anemic regulatory response to shale gas development, its laughable tax policy, and its less-than-impactful "impact fee", Pennsylvania's dismal economic development record amid the drilling boom is yet another cautionary tale to the world.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Argument from ignorance, part 3: the willful kind

An argument from ignorance is a conclusion that a proposition is false because it has not been proven to be true. When it comes to the impacts of unconventional natural gas development, Pennsylvania is suffering from an acute case of such arguments that grows in severity with each new revelation.

The first Pennsylvania instance of this faulty reasoning was a study that found no evidence of water contamination as a result of hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania's Marcellus region - because monitoring infrastructure and technology have not kept pace with drilling.

The second Pennsylvania instance was a revelation last year that the state does not track - or event count - the number of letters it issues as a result of investigations of water quality damage complaints. This was despite the fact that, as it later came to light, oil and gas development in the state contaminated water supplies at least 243 times since 2007.

The latest Pennsylvania instance comes in a story from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that's profoundly troubling. What the P-G reports is that this third instance is the most egregious of all - a case of willful ignorance:

Three widely cited state studies of air emissions at Marcellus Shale gas development sites in Pennsylvania omit measurements of key air toxics and calculate the health risks of just two of more than two dozen pollutants.
State regulators and the shale gas drilling industry over the past four years have repeatedly used the regional studies to support their positions that air emissions from drilling, fracking wastewater impoundments and compressor stations don’t pose a public health risk...
Not only did the DEP not calculate the vast majority of chemical hazards, but its determination that public health would not be harmed was not made by anyone with training in medicine, toxicology or environmental or occupational health...
This apparently willful ignorance is intolerable.  It places lives potentially at risk.  It must be corrected immediately - and investigated thoroughly.  Those responsible for such willful ignorance must be held to account.

Monday, October 20, 2014

TX uses fracking income to create public trust fund. Why not PA?

A Texas fund that collects rents and royalties from oil and natural gas development has built the largest education endowment in the country.

StateImpactPA reports that:

The publicly run endowment, called the Permanent School Fund, is worth $37.7 billion dollars. That’s $1.3 billion more than Harvard University’s $36.4 billion endowment. Jim Suydam, a spokesperson for the Texas General Land Office, says a big part of the story is the shale gas boom...
The Permanent School Fund dates back to the 1800′s, to the time when Texas was an independent public and had more land than cash. So lawmakers tied government lands to a special fund that helps build and maintain public schools. In essence, the state fund is a giant landowner that leases its surface and mineral rights to private companies, and charges a 25 percent royalty on the oil and gas. The Permanent School Fund also leases land to cattle ranchers and sells water rights.
A long-overdue severance tax on natural gas production in Pennsylvania could fund something similar for education and other needed investments. But I've proposed the creation of an analogous - but specialized - conservation trust fund for PennsylvaniaThe conservation trust fund would be created from royalty income from existing state forest natural gas leasing - income that's currently being squandered - over $225 million this fiscal year alone - on stopgap budget fixes. 

The state forest is being damaged by natural gas development.  The first use of state income resulting from that development should be to mitigate that damage and conserve the public's forest - something our state's constitution requires.  Investing income drawn from the public's lands in a public trust fund could also fund urgently needed investments in state parks and forests and statewide conservation - and, properly managed - endow those same powerful economic engines long after the gas ceases to flow.

If Texas can resist the urge to spend every nickle as soon as it comes into the state treasury, and instead take the fiscally conservative course of thinking about the future and investing in it, so can Pennsylvania.

Will we?