Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Citizens Voice Editorial: PA Supreme Court Reaffirms Environmental Quality Is A Right Not A Luxury In Shale Gas Drilling Ruling

The following editorial first appeared in the
Citizens Voice on May 17, 2023--

Breathe easy. The state constitution’s Environmental Rights Amendment is not a gratuitous statement. Rather, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court has found, the amendment is an invaluable and enforceable provision that empowers the state government to protect all Pennsylvanians’ right to clean air, water and more.

The amendment states: “The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment.”

That intentionally is a broad mandate, so it makes sense that Department of Environmental Protection regulations protecting the environment also must be broad.

One such regulation, adopted in 2016, requires drillers and the DEP to consider “the impact of a well permit on public resources including parks, forests, game lands, scenic rivers, natural landmarks, habitats of rare and endangered species ... and other critical communities, historical and archaeological sites and drinking water sources.”

An industry trade association, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, quickly filed a lawsuit arguing that, despite the constitutional mandate to protect the environment, the DEP did not have authority under a specific law to implement the regulations.

The Commonwealth Court ruled partially in favor of the drillers in 2019, leading to the state government’s appeal that the Supreme Court ruled on April 19.  [Read more here]

“Unadulterated outdoor recreation space is a basic component of quality of life and encompassed in the broadly defined values of the environment protected by the ... Environmental Rights Amendment. ... An unconventional gas well near spaces used by the public for recreational purposes could threaten the ambient air quality and cause significant noise pollution,” the justices ruled.

They also found that “public resources” need not be publicly owned, citing as an example the Frank Lloyd Wright architectural masterpiece Fallingwater in Fayette County.

With the administration’s regulatory authority affirmed, Gov. Josh Shapiro should implement recommendations by a state grand jury that he empaneled as attorney general in 2018. 

It found in 2020 that the state government systemically had failed to oversee the drilling industry in the public interest, and recommended mandatory disclosure of all chemicals used in fracking, expanded drilling buffer zones in sensitive areas, comprehensive public health assessments near drilling sites, and more.

That would ensure that environmental quality remains a right rather than a luxury.

PA Oil & Gas Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Struggle To Plug Tatonka Oil Co. LLC’s Nancy 13 Conventional Well Leaking Gas, Production Wastewater Since 2018; Citizen Complaint Finds ‘Bubbling’ Gas Well  [PaEN] 

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - May 20   [PaEN] 

-- DEP Posts 61 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In May 20 PA Bulletin  [PaEN] 

PA Oil & Gas Compliance Reports

-- Feature: 60 Years Of Fracking, 20 Years Of Shale Gas: Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Industrial Infrastructure Is Hiding In Plain Sight [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Well Owners Failed To File Annual Production/Waste Generation Reports For 61,655 Wells; Attorney General Continues Investigation Of Road Dumping Wastewater  [PaEN]

-- DEP Issued 754 Notices Of Violation For Defective Oil & Gas Well Casing, Cementing, The Fundamental Protection Needed To Prevent Gas Migration, Groundwater & Air Contamination, Explosions  [PaEN]

-- DEP Report Finds: Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Routinely Abandon Wells; Fail To Report How Millions Of Gallons Of Waste Is Disposed; And Non-Compliance Is An ‘Acceptable Norm’  [PaEN]

-- DEP 2021 Oil & Gas Program Annual Report Shows Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Received A Record 610 Notices Of Violation For Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them  [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industry Has Record Year: Cost, Criminal Convictions Up; $3.1 Million In Penalties Collected; Record Number Of Violations Issued; Major Compliance Issues Uncovered; Evidence Of Health Impacts Mounts  [PaEN]

Related Articles:

-- PA Supreme Court Upholds DEP’s Authority To Protect Public Resources, Playgrounds From Adverse Impacts Of Shale Gas Well Operations; Do Not Mistake This Win For Adequate Protection [PaEN]

-- Olympus Energy Shale Gas Driller Expresses Fear Municipalities Will Use Their DEP Compliance Record With Hundreds Of Violations To Help Make Local Land Use Decisions On Oil & Gas Infrastructure Projects  [PaEN]

[Posted: May 17, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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