Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsylvania wholeheartedly supports Governor Shapiro’s instructions to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to update regulations regarding fracking, including those involving chemical disclosure, methane emissions, drilling waste, inspection of secondary containment, and natural gas gathering lines. We agree with the Governor when he said, “Many Pennsylvanians had real questions about the public health and safety risks that fracking presents. The public deserves answers, and the public deserves accountability.”
Unfortunately, Gov. Shapiro’s instructions to DEP do not go far enough.There are additional actions that must be taken to protect Pennsylvanians from harms associated with fracking, including expanding setback distances between homes and gas wells, compressor stations, pipeline pigging facilities, gas processing facilities, and other fracking infrastructure (the setback is currently 500 feet in Pennsylvania) and adding emissions from each gas site in the aggregate rather than separately when considering new permits. And entering into a secret agreement with CNX — a company with a record of hundreds of violations in Pennsylvania in just the last three years — does not indicate “radical transparency” as much as it indicates “same as it ever was,” taking industry’s word for how they operate instead of providing truly independent monitoring and analysis.
It is a well-established and proven fact that fracking scars the landscape, pollutes the air and water, degrades the environment, and makes people living near gas wells and other infrastructure sick. See the 9th Edition of The Compendium.
Dozens of epidemiological studies and hundreds more peer-reviewed scientific studies (many conducted in Pennsylvania) show undeniably that something about fracking damages the health of people living near fracked gas wells and other infrastructure. Unsurprisingly, research also shows that the closer one lives to fracking sites the higher the risk for suffering health impacts that complicate pregnancies and lead to poor birth outcomes and increase the risk of asthma and other respiratory problems, heart disease, depression and anxiety, and cancer.
In his announcement last week, Governor Shapiro proposed an experiment conducted on Pennsylvania residents without their consent, only giving them an extra 100 feet to protect themselves and their children. We wonder whether ethical concerns about conducting such a study were considered?
What is the purpose of the experiment? With the growing mountain of evidence showing fracking’s harm, is more research needed for Governor Shapiro to finally adopt the health-protective policies recommended by a grand jury he himself convened?
We already know the names of the chemicals contaminating the air and water. We already know what the solid waste consists of and we know what the toxic and radioactive wastewater contains. We already know what is leaching out of landfills where fracking waste is dumped and what is ending up in our rivers where we source our drinking water. We already know what is being transported in brine trucks and what is being poured into injection wells.
We already know the level of exposure is significant because people living near it can smell it and they can taste it. People are getting sick from it, that is undeniable. We know the closer we are to it, the higher the risk — also undeniable from the epidemiological studies. And we know there are no safe levels of exposure to these chemicals, especially in pregnant women, children, the elderly, and those with other health conditions.
If CNX wants to show the world it can extract gas safely (which it cannot and never could), without emitting toxic pollution, it should do so FAR AWAY from where people live and children play, far away from where people source their drinking water. In the spirit of “radical transparency,” CNX should also account for every chemical used to drill and frack, every pound of solid waste collected and delivered to the landfill, every gallon of flowback wastewater recovered and delivered to the injection well, every pound of air emissions from diesel engines, pigging operations and compressors, and every worker's health data that complies with HIPAA rules.
The only thing that is "radical" about the agreement between CNX and Shapiro is that fracking will be allowed to continue to proliferate in the commonwealth while evidence mounts about how harmful it is to Pennsylvanians' health, Pennsylvania's environment, and the planet's climate system. It is disappointing that Governor Shapiro still believes that fracking for oil and gas can be done safely in Pennsylvania. It never could and it cannot now.