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State Sen. introduces fracking ban

One week after a damning grand jury report found Pennsylvania’s regulatory agencies haven’t done enough to prevent Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling industry from protecting people and the environment, a state Senator has unveiled a constitutional amendment to ban hydraulic fracturing.

Senator Daylin Leach, D-Montgomery/Delaware, said Thursday he has finalized legislative language to create a constitutional amendment banning hydraulic fracturing in Pennsylvania. Hydraulic fracturing, commonly referred to as fracking, involves injecting millions of gallons of water, sand and chemicals miles into the earth to break up layers of shale, causing oil or gas to be released. Fracking — and horizontal drilling techniques — have produced massive amounts of natural gas and oil in the U.S. over the past decade or so.

The first such well in the state was drilled in Washington County in 2004, and today there are more than 10,000 producing gas. The industry has brought lower natural gas prices for consumers, jobs and royalties.

“We can no longer hope that this can be done safely when the stakes are so high and there is so much evidence to the contrary,” Leach said. “My staff and I have been touring fracking sites all over this Commonwealth for the past 10 years and have heard from real Pennsylvanians about how their lives and their property have been ruined by this industry. We all know the environmental impact is deeply troubling, but the human impact is intolerable. I once thought we could live with fracking, and that we should push for stronger regulations while passing a severance tax so we could fund worthwhile initiatives. I’ve learned I was wrong,” Leach continued. “To those living not just near the wells, but also near the pipelines, compressor and pigging stations, there is no amount of money that makes it worth the impact to their health and property. Pennsylvania’s Constitution grants the people of our Commonwealth the right to “clean air” and “pure water.” It’s now time to stop fracking in Pennsylvania, and I’m confident the people of Pennsylvania will agree.”

The jurors’ eight recommendations included wider buffers between drilling activity and homes, schools and hospitals; public disclosure of the mix of chemicals used; and heightened regulation of how the wastewater created by drilling is transported. Witnesses from 70 households, mostly in rural parts of the state, told of being left with sores after showering with contaminated water, seeing farm animals die or become infertile and trying to help children plagued by a bewildering array of health problems. The jurors concluded the industry is making children sick, listing rashes, headaches, nose bleeds, bruising, cramps, nausea, vomiting, burning eyes, tremors and stabbing or burning sensations. Witnesses said living near a drilling pad can be noisy, dirty and annoying, with constant truck traffic and “blinding” light at all hours of the night. Water could taste like formaldehyde, smell like sulfur and leave a black sludge in toilets.

The Department of Environmental Protection’s response that was appended to the jurors’ findings said much of the report was inaccurate and misleading. The agency’s lawyer wrote that the report will falsely lead people “to believe their government is incompetent and/or places the economic well-being of various corporations above their health and well-being and that of the commonwealth’s public natural resources.” The head of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry trade group, said there is some disclosure of fracking chemicals and that drillers are subject to heightened standards for emissions.

“For anyone to suggest that we are not protecting our environment and public health while responsibly and safely producing clean and abundant American natural gas should better understand the facts and science,” said the organization’s president, David Spigelmyer.

The grand jury said state environmental regulators failed to file violations against the industry, to tell the public about violations that could be a risk to health and to refer violations for criminal investigation. The grand jury also criticized the Department of Health for not collecting data of past issues.

Leach circulated his proposal to Senate colleagues last year and again earlier this year in the form of a memo. Leach today announced the policy’s language as Senate Bill 1217. The bill has been referred to the Senate’s Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, on which Leach sits.

“I began losing confidence in DEP and the industry’s ability to keep people safe from the harms caused by this process years ago,” Leach said. “Unfortunately, the recent grand jury report issued last week has validated my concerns. After interviewing dozens of witnesses, the grand jury believes that while many DEP employees have good intentions and were doing the best job possible with limited resources, it does seem like the oil and gas industry has its own lobbying pipeline to DEP employees, who chose to ignore most of the calls from citizens in the drilling fields that were experiencing water and air contamination as well as serious health problems. Pennsylvania’s fracking experiment has been a complete disaster. Our neighbors continue to suffer, and contamination continues unchecked. We were promised an industry that would bring jobs and wealth to Pennsylvania, but instead, it’s brought cancer and suffering. I applaud the serious, hard work of the Office of the Attorney General and the courage of people who testified despite years of being ignored.”

The jurors said the oil and gas industry has recruited employees from the Department of Environmental Protection, creating what they called a potential conflict of interest. The jurors said some workers at the Department of Environmental Protection have apparently been more focused on serving the industry than the public.

“We appreciate that not every complaint is founded,” the jurors wrote. “But in areas of this commonwealth where fracking has taken a toll, many people do not believe that DEP is an honest broker.”

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