Tuesday, October 24, 2023

House Environmental Committee To Hold Oct. 30 Hearing On Bill Increasing Setback Safety Zones From Shale Natural Gas Drilling Sites, Infrastructure Based On Latest Science, Grand Jury Report

House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is scheduled to hold a hearing October 30 on House Bill 170 (Otten-D-Chester) increasing setback safety zones from shale natural gas drilling sites and infrastructure from 500 to 2,500 feet or more, based on the latest science.

            When she announced the legislation in March, Rep. Danielle Friel Otten said, “The Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General’s 43rd Statewide Investigating Grand Jury report on the unconventional oil and gas industry highlighted the misconduct of certain companies in relation to the drilling practice known as hydraulic fracturing (fracking).   [Read more here]

“Upon the conclusion of the grand jury’s two-year investigation in 2020, several legislative recommendations were made that would strengthen protections for the environment and the citizens of our Commonwealth.

“Currently, under Section 3215 of Title 58 (Oil and Gas) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes, certain setback distances are provided relative to the location of unconventional natural gas wells near buildings, streams, wetlands, etc. 

“However, the grand jury concluded that the current setbacks do not provide adequate protection for the environment or for public health and safety and, therefore, should be increased to 2,500 feet.

“My proposed legislation, based on the first of the grand jury's eight recommendations, increases setbacks for unconventional natural gas well sites and imposes a 2,500-foot setback to certain related infrastructure, such as: 

-- Natural gas compressor stations

-- Pits, impoundments, and storage tanks that contain drilling cuttings, flowback water, produced water, hazardous materials, chemicals, fuels, condensate, solid waste, and other waste.

“This legislation also follows the grand jury’s recommendation to further increase setbacks for schools and hospitals, to 5,000 feet.

“As then-Attorney General Josh Shapiro stated, “Our government has a duty to set, and enforce, ground rules that protect public health and safety. We are the referees; we are here to prevent big corporations and the powerful industries from harming our communities or running over the rights of citizens.” 

“I agree with his statement, and I believe that as legislators, we must do all we can to protect the residents of our commonwealth and our constitutional right to clean air and pure water.”

[Note: In April, an Inside Climate News article quoted a spokesperson for now Gov. Shapiro as saying the Governor’s Office supports the key recommendations in the Grand Jury Report.  Read more here.]

The Grand Jury recommendations included--

-- Expanding No-Drill Zones: Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet;

-- Chemical Disclosure: Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing before they are used on-site;

-- Gathering Pipelines: Requiring the regulation of gathering lines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;

-- Assess Air Quality: Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;

-- Safe Transport Of Waste: Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;

-- Comprehensive Health Response: Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;

-- Limit Revolving Door: Limiting the ability of Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the Department;

-- Direct Criminal Jurisdiction: Allowing the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.

Click Here for a copy of the Grand Jury Report.   Read more here.

Latest Science - University of Pittsburgh

A 2016 study led by health researchers at the University of Pittsburgh examined the adequacy of unconventional natural gas drilling setbacks in the three largest and most heavily drilled natural gas plays in the U.S.   Read more here.

The study looked at air pollution, blowouts and evacuations, and thermal modeling and found that “(C)urrent natural gas well setbacks in…the Marcellus Shale of Pennsylvania… cannot be considered sufficient in all cases to protect public health and safety.”

In August 2023, studies released by the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health found children living within 10 miles of producing natural gas wells have a link to adverse health impacts.  Read more here.

Among the study findings were--

-- Can Make Asthma Worse: “We learned that there was a strong link between the production phase of unconventional natural gas development and severe exacerbations, emergency department visits and hospitalizations for asthma in people living within 10 miles of one or more wells producing natural gas.

“Specifically, people with asthma have a 4 to 5 times greater chance of having an asthma attack if they live near unconventional natural gas development wells during the production phase.”

-- Lymphoma More Likely In Children: “Results indicated that children who lived within 1 mile of one or more wells had approximately 5 to 7 times the chance of developing lymphoma, a relatively rare type of cancer, compared to children who lived in an area without wells within 5 miles.

“Data suggest that those who lived closer to greater intensity of unconventional natural gas development activities had the highest risk.

“For perspective, the incidence of lymphoma is, on average, 0.0012% in US children under 20 years of age.  [This study] estimates that rate would be 0.006% to 0.0084% for children living within 1 mile of a well.”

-- Slightly Lower Birth Weights: “We learned that babies were about 1 ounce smaller at birth-- something that, in most cases, poses little health risk-- when born to mothers who lived near active wells during the production phase, or compressor stations or facilities accepting oil and gas waste.

“We also found that mothers who lived near active wells were more likely to have babies who were small for gestational age.”

Latest Science - Environmental Health Project

The Pittsburgh-based Environmental Health Project, which has been studying health impacts from natural gas development for more than 10 years, said the results of the latest University of Pittsburgh health studies are “very concerning.”   Read more here.

“We at the Environmental Health Project are not surprised that these new studies reveal significant correlations between shale gas development and health issues. 

“The results of the studies complement those of other studies and reinforce the scientific consensus that shale gas development is unsafe, especially for vulnerable populations like children, the elderly, pregnant individuals, and those with existing health conditions.

The asthma study is especially concerning because it shows that asthmatics living close to these sites are 4 to 5 times more likely to develop severe asthma symptoms or to require emergency department visits and hospitalizations. 

“These significant respiratory health impacts can occur up to 10 miles from well sites during the production phase of extraction—the longest phase of shale gas development—which can go on for a decade or more.

“The lymphoma study, which found that children living within one mile of one or more wells were 5 to 7 times more likely to develop this relatively rare form of cancer, is also very concerning. 

“Because most forms of cancer have long latency periods, we could expect to see more diagnoses of lymphoma and other cancers going forward.

“The birth outcomes study, which found that infants born to pregnant individuals who lived near wells during the production phase were 20-40 grams (about one ounce) smaller at birth, is concerning and adds to the body of research from a number of other birth outcomes studies that show a range of adverse health impacts for pregnant individuals and infants.”

They noted approximately 1.5 million Pennsylvanians live within a half mile of oil and gas wells. 

The Environmental Health Project recommended increasing setback safety zones to 1 kilometer (3,300 feet) from small facilities and 2 kilometers (6,600 feet) from large facilities, schools, nursing homes and other structures accommodating vulnerable populations.  Read more here.

Latest Science - 9th Compendium Of Health, Environmental Harms

On October 19, the 9th Compendium, published by the Concerned Health Professionals of NY and Physicians for Social Responsibility was released summarizing resources that describe the health and other impacts of natural gas development and infrastructure organized by topic. It also offers a review of trends in research findings.

The 9th Compendium organizes research into 17 major categories--

-- Regulations are incapable of preventing harm

-- Idle, abandoned and orphaned wells contribute to air and water pollution and are a significant source of methane leakage

-- Fracking is accelerating the climate crisis

-- Fracking contaminates and depletes drinking water supplies

-- Fracking creates air pollution at levels know to harm health

-- Public health problems associated with fracking include prenatal harm, respiratory impacts, cancer, heart disease, mental health problems and premature death

-- Health and safety risks for workers are severe and employment promises unrealized

-- Fracking and the injection of fracking waste cause earthquakes

-- Fracking waste disposal is a problem without a solution

-- Fracking infrastructure poses exposure risks to those living nearby

-- Drilling and fracking activities release radioactivity

-- Drilling and fracking activities harm wildlife

-- The Economic instabilities of fracking exacerbate public health risks

-- The social costs of fracking are severe

-- Fracking violates principles of environmental justice and human rights

-- Carbon capture and storage fails to mitigate the dangers of fracking

-- Combustion of fracked gas inside homes via kitchen stoves, hot water heaters and furnaces creates additional health and climate harms.

The summary conclusion of the 9th Compendium on natural gas development research is--

“The rapidly expanding body of evidence compiled here is massive, troubling and cries out for decisive action. 

“Across a wide range of parameters, the data continue to reveal a plethora of recurring problems that cannot be sufficiently averted through regulatory frameworks. 

“The risks and harms of fracking are inherent in its operation.” 

Dr. Steingraber noted similar conclusions were reached in 2014 when New York State banned fracking, saying “At the time, and again, this is nine years ago in 2014, there were 400 studies and investigations in the peer-reviewed scientific literature in government reports and by journalists that showed evidence for harm.

“Now, nine years later, there are almost 2,500 such studies.”

“Once again, much of the evidence for harm comes from the state of Pennsylvania.”

Click Here to read a copy of the 9th Compendium.

Related Legislation

In September, 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 and as recommended in the Grand Jury Report.   [Read more here.]

Sen. Santasiero and Sen. Maria Collett (D-Montgomery) also announced legislation giving the state Attorney General original jurisdiction to prosecute environmental crimes under the Solid Waste Management Act, Clean Streams Law and the Safe Drinking Water Act as recommended in the Grand Jury Report.

Sen. Santasiero also plans to introduce legislation to require a two year waiting period before employees from DEP can be employed by the oil and gas industry  as recommended by the Grand Jury Report.

Sen. Collett announced legislation to authorize citizens to file civil actions against those who violate four state environmental laws as recommended by the Grand Jury Report.

The laws include the Oil and Gas Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, the Clean Streams Law and the Safe Drinking Water Act.

The meeting will be held in Room G-50 Irvis Building starting at 10:00 a.m.  Click Here to watch live.

Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware) serves as Majority Chair of the House Environmental Committee and can be contacted by calling 717-787-7647 or sending email to: gvitali@pahouse.net. Rep. Martin Causer (R-Cameron) serves as Minority Chair and can be contacted by calling 717-787-5075 or by sending email to: mcauser@pahousegop.com.

Upcoming Event:

-- PA League Of Women Voters, University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health Nov. 14 Shale Gas & Public Health Conference  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Health/Environmental Impacts:

-- Gov. Shapiro: We Need Stronger Laws To Deal With The ‘Corporate Greed’ That Let Oil & Gas Operators Get Away With Abandoning Wells For Far Too Long [PaEN]

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

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes  [PaEN]

-- 3 Days That Shook Washington County: Natural Gas Plant Explosion; Pipeline Leak Of 1.1 Million Cubic Feet Of Gas; 10,000 Gallon Spill At Compressor Station  [PaEN]

-- Citizen Complaint, Company Report Results In DEP Inspection Finding 63,000 Gallon Wastewater Spill At Seneca Resources Shale Gas Well On State Game Lands In Elk County; More Leaks, Spills  [PaEN]

-- EQT Shale Gas Wastewater Truck Rolls Over Spilling More Than 4,600 Gallons Of Wastewater In Lycoming County [PaEN]

-- Equitrans Determined Leak Of Over 1.1 Billion Cubic Feet Of Natural Gas From Cambria County Storage Facility Was Caused By Corrosion In Conventional Gas Well Casing   [PaEN]

-- Ohio/PA Train Derailment, Pipeline Explosions, Uncontrolled Releases Put Spotlight On Public Health, Safety Threats Posed By Petrochemical, Natural Gas Industrial And Pipeline Infrastructure In PA  [PaEN] 

-- 9th Compendium Of Studies On Health & Environmental Harms From Natural Gas Development Released - ‘The Rapidly Expanding Body Of Evidence Compiled Here Is Massive, Troubling And Cries Out For Decisive Action’  [PaEN]

-- 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]

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act  [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]

-- New University Of Chicago Medical Study Connects Natural Gas Development In PA To Real, Serious Human Health Outcomes In Comparison To New York State  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: PA’s Natural Gas Boom - What Went Wrong? Why Does It Matter?  What Can We Do Better To Protect Public Health?  [PaEN]

-- Presentations Now Available From Shale Gas & Public Health Conference In Nov. Hosted By PA League Of Women Voters & University Of Pittsburgh Graduate School Of Public Health   [PaEN]

-- Yale School Of Public Health Study Found PA Children 2 To 3 Times More Likely To Be Diagnosed With Leukemia If They Live Near Unconventional Shale Gas Facilities  [PaEN]

-- Study: Industry Data Shows Hazardous Air Pollutants Are ‘Ubiquitous’ In The Natural Gas Transmission System; More Justification For Robust Leak Prevention Programs   [PaEN]

-- Penn State Study: Potential Pollution Caused By Road Dumping Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Makes It Unsuitable For A Dust Suppressant, Washes Right Off The Road Into The Ditch  [PaEN]

-- New Penn State Study: Brine Water Pumped From Played-Out Conventional Oil & Gas Wells And Used As Dust Suppressants, Winter Road Treatments Exceed Environmental, Health Standards, Just Like Conventional Oil & Gas Brine Water  [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]

-- 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]

-- 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]

-- Environmental Health Project: Setback Distances And The Regulations We Need To Protect Public Health From Oil & Gas Facilities   [PaEN]

-- 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]

-- Inside Climate News: Gov. Shapiro Provides Fresh Support To Key Changes Recommended In 2020 Grand Jury Report To Tighten Regulation Of The Natural Gas Drilling Industry To Better Protect Public Health, Environment  [PaEN] 

-- 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]

-- DEP: Widespread Presence Of PFAS ‘Forever Chemicals’ In Fresh Water Leading Shale Gas Operators To Use Contaminated Water In Fracking Operations; DEP Doesn’t Require Routine PFAS Testing  [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]

-- Creating New Brownfields: Oil & Gas Well Drillers Notified DEP They Are Cleaning Up Soil & Water Contaminated With Chemicals Harmful To Human Health, Aquatic Life At 272 Locations In PA  [PaEN]

-- Republican Rep. Krupa Introduces HB 1656 To Ban Oil, Gas Wastewater Injection Wells To Protect The Public From Radioactive, Toxic Materials [PaEN]

-- Center For Rural Pennsylvania: Rural Population To Shrink 5.8%; Fewer Young People, More Older People; Current Policies Failed To Sustain Communities, Ensure Long-Term Rural Resiliency  [PaEN]

More Environmental & Health Impact Articles:

-- Click Here for more articles on oil and gas infrastructure impacts on health and the environment.

PA Oil & Gas Industry Public Notice Dashboards:

-- Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Weekly Compliance Dashboard - October 14 to 20 - 6 More Abandoned Conventional Wells; Conventional Gas Migration Incident; Inactive Shale Gas Wells [PaEN]

-- PA Oil & Gas Industrial Facilities: Permit Notices/Opportunities To Comment - October 21  [PaEN] 

[Posted: October 24, 2023]  PA Environment Digest

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