The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Health Department both failed to protect the public health during the state’s Marcellus Shale natural gas boom, according to a scathing new report from a state grand jury.
The two-year investigation “uncovered systematic failure by government agencies in overseeing the fracking industry and fulfilling their responsibility to protect Pennsylvanians from the inherent risk of industry operations,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a statement.
“When it comes to fracking, Pennsylvania failed,” he said.
The grand jury also made eight recommendations to tighten state rules on fracking to protect drinking water, air quality, and the public health, Kallanish Energy reports.
That includes expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the current 500 feet to 2,500 feet, requiring fracking companies to disclose all chemicals used in fracking, mandating the regulation of gas-gathering lines, ordering safer transport of contaminated waste from fracking sites and considering all pollution sources to accurately assess air quality.
The grand jury called the 500-foot minimum setback “woefully inadequate.”
Shapiro would also like to be allowed to prosecute O&G gas cases. At present, the AG’s office cannot handle a case without a referral. The DEP has “proven “unable or unwilling” to refer shale cases to the AG, he said.
Shapiro called on DEP to partner with his office and adopt what he called the “grand jury’s common-sense reforms.”
Gov. Tom Wolf issued a statement he supported such changes and said he would work with the legislature to make such changes happen.
Pennsylvania suffers from what Shapiro called a “culture of inadequate oversight” and political pressure was used to protect shale drilling, he said.
DEP repeatedly failed to take sufficient action in response to the fracking boom, he said.
The agency failed through multiple administrations, the grand jury report said.
The report details the failure of DEP to adequately respond to the oil and gas industry over the last 10 years.
The grand jury heard testimony of more than 70 families who had issues in dealing with shale drillers.
Regulators were supposed to prevent abuse by big corporations and level the playing field. But they didn’t,” Shapiro said at a Thursday press conference.
The agency’s failures “harmed Pennsylvanians living in close proximity to this industry,” he said.
The grand jury documented cases of well water being contaminated, dead livestock, air pollution, and mysterious health problem in children and adults. They suffered from nausea, headaches, and nosebleeds.
Other issues included heavy truck traffic, around-the-clock fracking, and waste impoundments.
There are continuing investigations of childhood cancers near drilling sites in southwest Pennsylvania.
The grand jury said: “We heard clear and convincing evidence that leads us to conclude that industry operations in Pennsylvania have made our children sick.”
The grand jury report was called “unreliable” and “inaccurate” by some within the Wolf administration because it relies on anecdotes from as long as 15 years ago. State attorneys also called the health impacts of shale drilling “not significant.”
DEP, in an agency statement, put much of the blame on former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett, a Republican who served from 2011 to 2015 and who presided over the start of the state’s shale gas boom.
He directed that shale drilling be a top priority, it said.
For example, health department officials were not allowed to investigate complaints on fracking wells. PDOH has confirmed that report.
The agency also failed to collect data and determine how safe fracking is, Shapiro said.
Dave Spigelmyer of the Marcellus Shale Coalition said the drilling industry’s efforts to assure safety and comply with state laws are not reflected in the grand jury report, StateImpact Pennsylvania reported.
The grand jury report is not overly critical of Wolf.
The report was released last week, in the wake of Shapiro filing criminal charges earlier this month against Range Resources and Cabot Oil & Gas, two of the biggest players in the Marcellus Shale.
Range has pleaded no contest to seven criminal charges of negligent oversight in connection to two environmental cases in Washington County in southwest Pennsylvania.
The company will pay $50,000 in fines and $100,000 in charitable contributions to a local watershed group.
The grand jury has charged Cabot Oil & Gas in connection with 15 environmental crimes in northeast Pennsylvania.
The company was charged with seven counts of the prohibition against discharge of industrial wastes, seven counts of the prohibition against other pollutions, and one count of unlawful conduct under the state’s Clean Streams Law.
The violations took place in Susquehanna County in northeast Pennsylvania.
This post appeared first on Kallanish Energy News.