Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Environmental Health Project: How DEP Issues Permits For Shale Gas Facilities Without Considering Cumulative Impacts - How New Facilities Will Add To Existing Pollution Loads And Impact The Area

Environmental Health Project based in Southwest PA published a fact sheet on how the Department of Environmental Protection is issuing permits for shale gas infrastructure facilities without considering the impact of how those new sources of pollution will impact local communities when added to the existing pollution in the area.

Each permit becomes a stand-alone decision without considering the cumulative impacts of this pollution on communities.

Shale gas development requires multiple facilities and infrastructure of varying size in order to access, transport, refine, separate, and convert the shale gas products—all of which emit air pollutants. 

Emissions are released into the ambient air and invisible to the naked eye. 

In addition, the terrain in the Marcellus/Utica region, with its many hills and valleys, can result in pollution further concentrating close to where people work, live, and play, increasing the risk of health impacts.

The 2020 Grand Jury investigating shale gas development recommended the following guideline for aggregating industry emissions:  “If air-polluting fracking facilities are stationed in close proximity, treat them as one source, and regulate accordingly. After all, if people live anywhere nearby, their lungs aren’t going to care whether the chemicals in the air came from one large source or from many smaller sources all next to each other. It is reasonable to expect our regulatory agencies to take that into account.”  Read more here.


The Environmental Health Project recommends that permitting of any shale gas facility, including expansion of an existing facility, should be based on aggregated emissions from all industry sources in local airsheds, and that such permitting should reflect plausible health exposures and impacts.

Specifically, EHP recommends--

-- Aggregate Emissions/Pollution: DEP must aggregate oil and gas facility emissions at a local airshed level. It is within the power of state governments to reasonably strengthen federal emissions limits. According the U.S. EPA: “Individual states or tribes may have stronger air pollution laws, but they may not have weaker pollution limits than those set by EPA.”2

-- Measure Existing Pollution: DEP must measure and account for existing airborne health risks to communities when conducting inhalation risk assessments.

-- Expand Monitoring: DEP should install air monitoring devices for criteria pollutants and VOCs in local airsheds in which the shale gas industry operates or plans to operate to track the emission burden in the airshed.

     --  Monitoring data should be available on-line to the public and averaged in 15 minute intervals to capture spikes in emissions.

-- Citizen Monitoring: DEP and the state Department of Health should be required to respond to data from private air monitors that have been evaluated by the U.S. EPA.

-- Local Monitoring Information: DEP should utilize local air monitoring information from the installed monitors:

     --  When permitting new facilities in an airshed

     --  When permitting an expansion of an existing facility

     --  When multiple facilities are applying for permits in the same local airshed at the same time

     --  When activities include significant increases in truck traffic.

-- Involved Public Health Professionals: DEP should consult public health professionals, including PA DOH, in placement of air monitors.

-- Health Impact Assessments: A health impact assessment should be required if the addition of shale gas infrastructure might result in emission levels exceeding health standards.

-- Focus On Toxic Chemicals: DEP and PA DOH should determine all toxic chemicals that are emitted and set health protective standards for those toxics based on information from NIOSH, WHO, or standards set by other states.

-- Before issuing permits, PA DEP should ensure that the additional burden on the airshed should not exceed health-protective limits.

Click Here to read the entire Fact Sheet.

For more information on programs, initiatives, upcoming events and how you can get involved, visit the  Environmental Health Project website or follow them on Facebook or TwitterClick Here to sign up for regular updates.

DEP Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy

On September 16, the Department of Environmental Protection published the Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy in the PA Bulletin that will now guide DEP’s permit application reviews and outreach efforts in environmental justice areas throughout the Commonwealth. Public comments are being accepted until October 29.  (formal notice)

One of the issues the new EJ Policy is intended to address is cumulative impacts in communities that are already burdened by pollution.

“A DEP permit applicant who files a permit application on or after September 16 must use the new PennEnviroScreen tool to determine if the permit’s facility is in an environmental justice area.”

The PennEnviroScreen will redefine environmental justice areas using 32 environmental, health and socioeconomic indicators that are spelled out in a 113-page PennEnviroScreen Methodology Document.

DEP staff have said in several forums the goal of the Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy is to can enhance opportunities for participation, share more information, provide information in appropriate languages, teach people how to effectively submit comments, hold a hearings or information sessions, but they recognize DEP can not deny a permit solely on environmental justice grounds without additional statutory authority.  Read more here.

Visit DEP’s Environmental Justice Policy Revision webpage for more information.

Bill Authorizing Consideration Of Cumulative Impacts

At a June 5 hearing by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, Fernando TreviƱo, DEP Special Deputy for Environmental Justice and Justin Dula, Director DEP Office of Environmental Justice testified in support of House Bill 652 (Bullock-D- Philadelphia)  requiring environmental impact reports on certain electric generation, waste management, sewage treatment and other facilities that are a major source of air pollution proposed in already burdened communities.  Read more here.

House Bill 652 would give DEP the statutory authority to deny a permit application in any environmental justice area based on the “cumulative environmental impacts.”

On June 6, the House Committee amended and reported out House Bill 652 and it is now in the House Rules Committee.  Read more here.

Expanding Setback Safety Zones

On September 18, Senators Steven Santasiero (D-Bucks) and Carolyn Comitta (D-Chester), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, announced they were introducing legislation to increase setback safety zones from shale natural gas drilling sites based on the latest science.

The legislation would increase the distance from buildings and water wells from 500 to 2,500 feet and to 5,000 feet from reservoirs, schools and hospitals.  

Shale gas drilling is currently not allowed within 1,000 feet of a public water supply well, water intake, reservoir or other water supply extraction point used by a water purveyor without the consent of the owner.  Read more here.

Related Articles - Health Studies:

-- University Of Pittsburgh School Of Public Health Studies Find Shale Gas Wells Can Make Asthma Worse; Children Have An Increased Chance Of Developing Lymphoma Cancer; Slightly Lower Birth Weights  [PaEN]

-- State Dept. Of Health Apologizes For Not Listening To Communities Suffering Health Impacts From Shale Gas Development; New Health Study Results ‘Just The Tip Of The Iceberg’  [PaEN]

-- State Dept. Of Health Invites Citizens To File Environmental Health Complaints Related To Natural Gas Development; Health Will Also Review Environmental Test Results  [PaEN] 

-- Environmental Health Project Finds Results ‘Very Concerning’ From University Of Pittsburgh Studies Showing Links Between Natural Gas Development And Lymphoma Cancer, Worsening Asthma Conditions, Lower Birth Weights  [PaEN]

-- Between The Lines Podcast: Pediatrician Dr. Ned Ketyer Explains The Results Of New Studies Of The Health Impacts Of Natural Gas Development On Children And Adults  [PaEN]

-- Public Source: ‘It’s Just Too Close:’ People Living Near Natural Gas Drilling, Industrial Facilities Suffer As State And Local Governments Fail To Buffer Homes

-- What It’s Like To Raise A Family In The Most Fracked County In PA - Washington County: PA Physicians For Social Responsibility [Video]

-- Senators Santarsiero, Comitta To Introduce Bill Increasing Setback Safety Zones From Shale Natural Gas Drilling Sites From 500 To 2,500 Feet, Based On Latest Science  [PaEN]

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - Sept. 23 to 29; More Abandoned Wells; Oil & Gas Doesn’t Typically Issue NOVs For ‘Routine’ Venting Of Natural Gas, Will Air Quality Under New Regs?  [PaEN] 

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - September 30   [PaEN] 

-- DEP Invites Comments On Title V Air Quality Permit For Eastern Gas Transmission Compressor Station In Westmoreland County At Oct. 31 Hearing  [PaEN]

-- DEP Posted 54 Pages Of Permit-Related Notices In September 30 PA Bulletin  [PaEN] 

NewsClips This Week:

-- PennLive Guest Essay: Gov. Shapiro, The Fracking Clock Is Ticking - By Megan McDonough, Food & Water Watch

-- AP: Gov. Shapiro Noncommittal On Greenhouse Gas Strategy As Climate Task Force Finishes Work

-- The Allegheny Front: EPA’s Approval Of 2nd Plum Boro Oil/Gas Wastewater Injection Well In  Allegheny County Raises Fears That More Are On The Way

-- Grist - Will Peischel: Inside The Rough-And-Tumble Race To Clean Up America’s Abandoned Oil & Gas Wells [PA Highlighted]

-- Planet Philadelphia Radio: Cleaning Up Our Energy Systems, Oct. 5 At 4:00 p.m.

-- Observer-Reporter: Pipeline Operator Faces $100,000 PUC Penalty For 2020 House Explosion In Greene County

-- WTAE: Natural Gas Pipeline Leak In Collier Twp., Allegheny County Forces People Out Of Their Homes

-- PUC Commissioner Kathryn Zerfuss Appointed To Presidential Task Force On Evolving Natural Gas Infrastructure Planning

-- Utility Dive: PJM Board Calls For Capacity Market Changes To Bolster Grid Reliability, Resource Adequacy

-- Guest Essay: EPA Further Threatens Grid Reliability By Reducing Carbon Pollution From Power Plants, Including Natural Gas-Fired Power Plants - By Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Lycoming), Majority Chair of the PA Senate Environmental Committee

-- Pittsburgh Business Times: Marcellus Shale Gas Industry Coalition Highlights Natural Gas Industry’s Economic Impact In PA; Faces Bills Extending Safety Zones

-- Marcellus Shale Gas Industry Coalition: Natural Gas Generates $41 Billion In Economic Activity, Supports 123,000 Jobs, Produced $6.3 Billion In Landowner Royalties 

-- Erie Times Guest Essay: Marcellus Shale Gas Coalition Wraps Up Conference In Erie - Natural Gas Delivers For All Pennsylvanians

-- JDSupra: Federal Court In Ohio Makes Important Ruling On Post-Production Costs For Oil & Gas Leaseholders Under ‘Market Enhancement’ Clause

Related Articles This Week:

-- Environmental Health Project: How DEP Issues Permits For Shale Gas Facilities Without Considering Cumulative Impacts - How New Facilities Will Add To Existing Pollution Loads And Impact The Area  [PaEN]

-- Member Of Pine Creek Headwaters Protection Group Briefs DCNR Advisory Council On Siting Of Shale Gas Well Pad On State Forest Land To Accommodate Taking Gas From Private Land In Tioga County  [PaEN]

-- Gov. Shapiro’s Work Group Concludes A Cap-And-Invest Carbon Pollution Regulation Program Would Be Optimal Approach To Reducing Greenhouse Emissions From Power Plants; Scale Up Solar Energy  [PaEN]

-- On Sept. 27 Families Will Hold Town Hall Meeting In Washington County Seeking Policy Changes After Pitt Studies Link Natural Gas Development And Negative Health Outcomes  [PaEN]

-- Guest Essay: DEP Should Invest $33.6 Million In New Federal Funding Wisely To Plug  Conventional Oil & Gas Wells And Not Reward The Industry For Bad Behavior  - By  Russell Zerbo, Clean Air Council  [PaEN] 

-- DEP Updates Times Of 2 Hearings On Interim Final Environmental Justice Policy To Accept Comments In Erie, Philadelphia  [PaEN] 

-- PJM Interconnection Board Proposes Market Reforms Based Largely On Unreliability Of Natural Gas-Fired Power Plants During Winter Storm Elliot  [PaEN] 

-- PJM Interconnection Files Proposed Winter Storm Elliot Settlement With Non-Performing Electric Generators With FERC, Requests Final Action By Dec. 29  [PaEN]

[Posted: September 26, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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