I read with interest Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer's recent statement regarding the state's Air Quality program:
"We in Pennsylvania have a lengthy and successful history of regulating the oil and gas industry, and we are ensuring that this state and this country realize the full promise of abundant, domestic, cheap, clean-burning natural gas extracted and brought to market in an environmentally sensitive manner."
I would like to believe Mr. Krancer's and Gov. Tom Corbett's repeated assurances that all is well with this administration's oversight of natural gas operations in Pennsylvania. However, there are too many signs that point to the contrary:
1. Since 2010, there have been substantial cuts in the budgets of the DEP, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and other government agencies charged with the vital responsibility of protecting the commonwealth's natural resources.
2. While the governor has made a commitment to work with the industry to promote job growth, the relationship between the DEP and drilling companies seems too accommodating. Repeated violations are issued to the same companies without fines or penalties.
3. The problem of methane migration resulting from drilling operations occurring near abandoned oil and gas wells is growing. Impacted homeowners have had to install methane monitoring equipment to protect their property and water supplies. Yet the state's Abandoned Well Plugging Program is woefully underfunded, and there are no regulations that require drilling companies to plug known abandoned wells in the vicinity of their operations.
4. The highly touted "expedited permit process" may be a step toward greater efficiency, or it may be a slide to the rubber-stamping of permits for operations that have a huge and lasting impact on the environment.
5. Despite the litany of claims that the public health and welfare will be safeguarded, not one public health expert sits on the governor's prestigious and heavily influential Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission. In addition, one of the provisions of House Bill 1950, the state's Impact Fee legislation, requires that public health workers sign a confidentiality agreement when treating workers or others who have been exposed to proprietary fracking chemicals.
6. Much of the drilling is taking place adjacent to Pennsylvania's farms, where livestock and food products may be affected. Even the safety of consuming wildlife is debatable when these animals may also have been exposed to spills or instances of improperly stored or illegally dumped chemicals. It gets more troublesome when one considers the spreading of drilling brines on our roads as "beneficial use."
These are just a few of my concerns. People who pay attention to the issues of gas development in the Marcellus Shale know that there are many more.
We are all energy consumers. But we are also dependent on our government to assure clean air, clean soil and clean water. We need to pay attention and voice our concerns.
If our governor, state legislators and state agencies don't hear from us, they're going to assume that we are satisfied. Are you?
Mary Anne Heston is a retired teacher, a concerned citizen and a member of the God's Country Waterdogs, a group of volunteers who monitor Potter County's streams. She lives in Hector Township, Potter County.