With thousands of new permits expected for Marcellus shale gas drilling in Pennsylvania this year, environmental advocates are calling on state officials to protect the area’s drinking water by enacting model standards for oil and gas well construction.
Earthjustice, on behalf of the Sierra Club and 10 state organizations, today presented the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection with 47 recommendations for strengthening its regulations. The analysis, authored by an experienced petroleum and environmental engineer, is a response to DEP’s proposed recommendations for revisions to oil and gas well construction regulations.
The report’s suggestions include technical changes to the ways oil and gas wells are actually built as well as common-sense measures like requiring a 24-hour deadline for DEP’s initial response to complaints about drinking water contamination.
“The law now allows DEP 10 days to begin investigation of possible drinking water contamination,” said Earthjustice Managing Attorney Deborah Goldberg. “In that time, drilling rig operations could be completely packed up and moved off location.”
At the same time, a separate coalition of state and national environmental groups have joined with landowners’ associations to urge the federal Environmental Protection Agency to conduct the first ever comprehensive study of how oil and gas development affects surface water and groundwater.
Earthjustice, on behalf of 63 organizations from across the country, submitted comments to the EPA on Friday afternoon. The groups are urging the agency to expand an ongoing study of one form of natural gas mining — coalbed methane extraction — to include oil and gas exploration, stimulation, and extraction techniques in other formations as well. The comments respond to the EPA’s request, published in the Federal Register late last year, for input on the scope of the study.
The requested study would include a careful look at hydraulic fracturing, the practice of blasting millions of gallons of chemically treated water into the earth to break up deposits that hold oil or gas.
“Industry representatives often claim that there is no documented proof that hydraulic fracturing causes groundwater contamination,” Goldberg said. “But the dearth of research is not evidence that there is no problem. Rather, it is evidence of how successful the gas industry has been at impeding research.”
In the meantime, hydraulic fracturing has been used extensively for natural gas development out West, where residents have reported many problems.
“We have significant concerns not only about contamination of our water resources, but also depletion of the water table,” said Tracy Dahl, President of the North Fork Ranch Landowner’s Association in Colorado. “We have already seen significant impacts and expect more to come.”
Read Earthjustice’s comments to PADEP (PDF)
Read Earthjustice’s comments to the EPA (PDF)