EPA Public Testimony Reveals Distrust in Air Emission Regulations, and Why Corporate Responsibility Protects People

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EPA Extends Public Comment for Natural Gas Oversight

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced last week it is extending the public comment period on proposed new air emission regulations for hydraulic fracturing and natural gas development until November 30, 2011. The regulations come in lieu of a court order from a case against the EPA by WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, that comes in the wake of dangerous ozone reports and health problem claims in areas of heavy drilling. 

The regulations aim to better control pollutants known to cause life-threatening disease such as asthma and cancer. While some who’ve already submitted comments ask for even stronger measures to protect health and human rights, the industry and its supporters opt for less regulatory burden and more time to comply.

Last week, Public Herald published an article about  testimonies given in Pittsburgh at one of three public hearings held in the U.S. by the EPA in order to hear public comment regarding the proposed air regulations. This week, we tune you into two more testimonies from the Pittsburgh hearing, one in support of more regulations and the other against.

The first testimony is by Bill Belitskus, Board President of Allegheny Defense Project whose mission is to protect “the natural heritage of the Alleghenies and Pennsylvania’s only national forest.”  The second testimony is by Lauren Williams, a young woman who found employment with a drilling company.

You can find directions on how to submit your own testimony at the end of this report.

Bill Belitskus, Board President, Allegheny Defense Project:


Bill Belitskus of the Allegheny Defense Project testifying before the EPA about proposed air emission regulations. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

“Two weeks ago I received a call from a distraught citizen, Mary Anne Hildebrand from Butler County, Pennsylvania. Her family is ill from the toxic air emissions coming off of a tank battery constructed next to their home when two gas wells were drilled two years ago. The industry said nothing is wrong, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, and I use the word “protection” reluctantly, told her that her family is crazy, nothing is wrong, and DEP is washing its hands of them. They can’t open their windows and their health is being impacted. These blatant lies by the oil and gas industry and the PA Department of Environmental Protection need to come to an end immediately. The EPA is 25 years late in updating air quality standards for the oil and gas industry. Some standards were adopted in 1985 but have not been updated since. It is no point of pride that it was only after the EPA was sued by the WildEarth Guardians the San Juan Citizens Alliance that the agency committed to updating its rules. You want science? Citizens have given the EPA tons of science. You know there’s a problem. Our air, water, and soil are being polluted and it needs to stop now. Calculating the air pollution created by the oil and gas industry is industrial engineering math for the known sources of pollution that the EPA ignored for decades. There were controls; they were never used. So, I am not naive enough to believe that the EPA is here today because it wants to protect public health. The EPA is simply supporting the administration’s priority of continuing to expand domestic oil and natural gas production. Now, on top of air pollution from decades of unregulated oil and gas drilling, the EPA is facilitating unconventional shale hydrocarbon extraction and needs a regulatory framework in place to legally permit the projected increases in toxic air pollutants and remove the legal liability for the industry to continue poisoning the public. That’s how regulation works. So, the question for the EPA is, how do you regulate when you refuse to conduct a full environmental analysis of the complete life cycle of the Marcellus drilling to determine what pollution actually needs to be regulated? You are required to address known cumulative impacts, and I’m quoting from your standard that you published in the Federal Registry, “to provide an ample margin of safety.” That’s your job. That’s what you said this process if for. So, you need to consider the cumulative impacts. And that means that new standards must include the cumulative impacts of carbon release from land clearing, methane release from drilling and hydrofracking, toxic emissions from industry vehicles and construction equipment. In Marcellus drilling, a thousand trucks in, a thousand trucks out. Every citizen knows that saying already. Dust, pipelines, generators, compressors, gas processing plants, condensate tank farm facilities, dehydrators, on-site brine and fracking pits, and permanent open brine and fracking fluid storage pits gassing off. These emissions are calculable and must be regulated. All drilling sites need radiation monitors for the radioactive isotopes that will be encountered in the drilling process. Furthermore, the air emissions from landfill dumping of contaminated drilling waste will involve exposing the public to a synergistic mix of toxic chemicals and radioactive emissions. These air emissions are all part of the toxic drilling process. And let’s not forget the flaring and the frack water treatment plants that the industry wants to build all over Pennsylvania. There are 15,000 oil and gas wells and related infrastructure on the Allegheny National Forest, and I have stood at some on-site brine pits, tank battery facilities, and generator and compressor stations and been nauseated by the toxic emissions from the facilities. No open drilling pits should be allowed under any conditions with only closed tanks being used. Then, any toxic chemicals and radioactive materials from the thousands of open brine pits would not be buried on-site to pollute our aquifers. That’d be an added benefit to the public. I have observed methane being vented directly into the atmosphere from well heads 24 hours a day where the public could actually be recreated, leaking well heads, leaking pipelines, overflows and tank batteries, all gassing off. These rules promise hundreds of thousands of tons of emission reductions from drilling operations and fracking. The question is, though, you really haven’t proven that there will actually be a reduction in air emissions based on these standards when in fact at the same time you are promoting the expansion of Marcellus drilling.

“I attended the EPA hearing in Canonsburg last year on the impacts of hydrofracking on groundwater. I’m at home taking TDS meter readings every night at my water well because I’m waiting for a Marcellus well to be hydrofracked. It’s a crap way to live, guys, wondering whether 30 years of work a homestead that you’ve invested your life in is even gonna be suitable to live on and used as part of your retirement. And that’s the position that you’ve put Pennsylvania citizens in, and citizens in Colorado, Wyoming, and Montana, and Texas, and we knew that. Enough’s enough. It stops here in Pennsylvania. And I can tell you, don’t go north in New York. The Finger Lakes [region] is in an uprising.”

Lauren Williams, Citizen:


Lauren Williams a member of the Consumer Energy Alliance testifying before the EPA about proposed air emission regulations. photo: Joshua B. Pribanic

“I’m here speaking on behalf of myself. I spent my years after high school going to school and looking for steady work. Over that time I’ve worked as a bartender and waitress to make ends meet. Thankfully, I was recently able to get a good paying job with a drilling company because of the growth of the Marcellus Shale industry in Western Pennsylvania. I recognize the concerns people have about water, I’m concerned too, but I know my company always does the right thing. Over-regulation of the industry put in danger jobs like mine and could mean that other people won’t have the chance like I did. Despite the numerous job production that the Marcellus has already generated, unemployment in Pennsylvania remains high at 8.2 percent, well above historical norms. In 2010, natural gas production from the Pennsylvania Marcellus averaged one million cubic feet per day and is estimated to approach 2.5 billion cubic feet per day in 2011. Average daily consumption in the United States is above 66 billion cubic feet and the U.S. Energy Information Administration anticipates consumption to grow in coming years. Each mile of Marcellus pipeline represents a nearly one million investment into Pennsylvania’s economy and every one dollar invested in the state by Marcellus producers, $1.90 in total economic output is generated. Natural gas is a fundamental resource serving as a feedstock for manufacturing, chemical, and fertilizer production, as well as electricity generation. Industrial consumption of natural gas in 2010 averaged 18 billion cubic feet per day. In 2011, natural gas related industrial production is projected to expand 2.4 percent causing daily industrial consumption to increase 18.3 billion cubic feet. In response to concerns over greenhouse gas emissions, U.S. utilities will increasingly turn lower carbon, natural gas fired facilities to meet increasing electricity demands. According to the EIA, 46 percent of capacity additions to electricity generation through 2035 will come from natural gas fired plants. I’m a member of the Consumer Energy Alliance, and CEA is concerned that some opposition groups may utilize this opportunity to push for a moratorium on gas shale development or more stringent regulations that could greatly limit production. Therefore, we should use this opportunity to highlight the advances the industry has made, environmental protection, and, more importantly, to underscore the immense economic and energy security benefits that shale gas confers for the Unites States. I’d like to thank the EPA for letting me speak.”

Submit Your Comment on EPA’s Proposed Rules – The deadline to submit comments to the EPA is TODAY, October 31. Submit a comment at  http://www.regulations.gov/#!home — ENTER Docket ID # EPA- HQ-OAR-2010-0505.