Pennsylvania Resident Shares Her Thoughts About Fracking Regulations

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Public Herald member Bryn Hammarstrom testifies at an Environmental Quality Board hearing on proposed changes to Pennsylvania's oil and gas regulations. © jbpribanic

Public Herald member Bryn Hammarstrom testifies at an Environmental Quality Board hearing on proposed changes to Pennsylvania’s oil and gas regulations. © jbpribanic

Comments at Environmental Quality Board Public Hearing on Proposed Changes to Pennsylvania’s Chapter 78 Regulations on Fracking

by Shellie Northrop of Sayre, PA 

Good Evening.  My name is Shellie Northrop, and I’m from Sayre in Bradford County, PA.  I will make a few comments tonight on the proposed changes to Chapter 78 Regulations but intend to submit more complete comments before the March 14 deadline.

First, I would like to point out that regulations will not accomplish their protective goals unless there is good enforcement of the regulations.  This must be done by levying fines high enough to act as a deterrent.  Otherwise, there will be ‘’bad actors” making the same mistakes and repeated violations over and over again.  I would also like to point out the current proposed state budget will cut staffing at the DEP, not reassuring for an agency responsible for protecting the health of Pennsylvania citizens and preserving its environment.

It also cannot be stressed too much regarding Pennsylvania’s unfortunate legacy of promoting resource extraction over the well being of current and future generations.  It took a century for forests to re-establish after the clear cutting by the timber industry.  And we are still dealing with the aftermath of coal mining with acid mine drainage polluting our waters.  While job creation is repeatedly stressed, the numbers quoted by the industry are highly inflated compared to the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry’s own figures.  A study by the Multi State Shale Research Collaborative shows this industry accounts for less than 0.5% of statewide employment.  In heavily drilled Bradford County, it still accounts for just 6% of total employment.  (Some of the other 94% experienced the negative impacts of highly inflationary housing costs.)  And now these jobs are already going “bust.”  My point?  No industry should ever be given priority over the protection of health and environment for short term economic gains.

There should be changes and additions to the definitions used in this chapter.  Specifically, there should be a definition of “fresh water” such that it is distinguished from fluids that are “other Department approved sources,” such as mine water, that have been recycled and diluted with clean water (78.1(a) ).  There should be a definition for “seasonal high groundwater table,” since this term is used in the regulations.  The term of “oil and gas operations” should be used consistently throughout the regulations rather than “oil and gas activities,” to be sure all the activities included in the definition for operations are covered.

Under 78.15(f) (1) and (2), Application Requirements, both the DEP and the applicant should be required to comment or respond to any comments received from public resource agencies if a permit may affect a public resource.  The DEP should frame its response as conditions to mitigate the impacts rather than giving priority to the mineral rights owner’s ability to “optimally” develop his rights.  To not do so will be a failure of the DEP to perform its duty to protect the public’s constitutional rights to a clean environment and protection of resources for future generations.

Under 78.51 Protection of Water Supplies, a “restored or replaced” water supply should meet PA Safe Drinking Water Act standards, despite industry lobbying for otherwise.  And it should certainly match the quality of water prior if it exceeded those standards (78.51(2) ).

The pre-drilling or pre-alteration survey (78.52) should have consistent parameters for testing, as defined by the DEP.  In Bradford County, there has been variability in different operators’ pre-drill testing parameters.  As a result, some landowners’ water has been impacted without satisfactory determination of liability due to lack of specific testing to establish a proper baseline.  While protecting the privacy of the landowner and referring to the general locales where testing has been done, these test results should be made available to the public through a searchable online database.  This could be especially useful data for researchers.  And this transparency will keep the industry from making misleading blanket statements about “pre-existing” contamination.

Abandoned and orphan well identification (78.52a) should be done by the operator prior to drilling, not just prior to fracking.  After all, there have been instances in our Northern Tier Counties of methane migration from drilling prior to fracking, even without the presence of abandoned wells.  Since the industry fully acknowledges that unplugged abandoned wells are a prime route for methane migration, it seems logical that there is an even greater risk of pre-fracking problems occurring in their presence.  Ideally, these abandoned wells should be plugged prior to drilling rather than just monitoring them after fracking.  After all, it is much easier to prevent contamination than to try remediating it.  There should be adequate fees imposed for the purpose of plugging more of these abandoned wells.  Along the same area of concern, the bonding requirements for O&G activities are woefully inadequate.  If these cannot be increased, there should be rigorous verification by DEP inspection that well sites are properly restored and wells plugged prior to releasing the operator from liability.

The disposal of various wastes through burying on site or spreading via land or road application should not be allowed.  There is not adequate testing or oversight to keep hazardous chemicals, residual waste and radioactive material from contaminating our water.  At the very least, the landowner should be notified and given the opportunity to stop these practices from being carried out.

Finally, given the availability of closed loop systems, the use of pits and open topped tanks should be banned for short term storage due to their history of spills and leaks and the potential for air pollution.  Some of these pits and tanks have even caught on fire.  Many operators are already using closed loop systems.  Other operators should be required to adopt these “best management practices.”

Thank you for your time and efforts in strengthening these regulations.

Comments Submitted February 10, 2014. Shellie Northrup is also a member of Public Herald. To become a member and show your support to investigative journalism visit: http://www.publicherald.org/donate/

Proposed Changes to Chapter 78 Regulations

F Proposed Rulemaking (Text)