Dangerous PA conventional oil & gas bills create loopholes; engender pollution

Pennsylvania’s oil and gas politicians are back at their old tricks of turning back the clock on protections for air, water, health, and the climate. Just like when they killed important new regulations for the conventional oil and gas industry, they introduced two new dangerous bills in recent weeks. 

SB 790 and HB 1635, introduced by Senator Joseph Scarnati (R-25, Brockway) and Representative Martin Causer (R-67, Turtlepoint),  would have created “environmental and public health risks and [loosen] current environmental protections to the point, in some cases, of nullification” – that’s according to Pennsylvania’s own Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP). 

We at Earthworks often wish PA DEP would go further to hold the fossil fuel industry fully and financially accountable for the dire environmental and health impacts it creates. So if PA DEP is wary, the rest of us need to be doubly concerned. 

Both bills are bad, but Scarnati’s bill is especially so for two reasons: 

  • It exempts wastewater spread on unpaved roads from the Solid Waste Management Act, the law under which potentially toxic wastewater was kept off of roads in the past.
  • “[T]o facilitate the prompt implementation” of “the beneficial use of produced water,” SB 790 allows for two years of “temporary regulations” that are “not subject to” administrative, legal or public review.

Both the Scarnati and Causer bills will: 

  • Allow operators to keep the chemicals they use, which end up in their waste, confidential from the public– even when the waste is spread directly on unpaved roads near homes [SB790 § 313(b.2)]
  • Put oil and gas wastewater on roads without testing for all pollutants, including radioactive materials, petroleum hydrocarbons, and “trade secret” chemicals [HB1635 § 904(d); SB790 § 707(a)] 
    • Only require “regional” testing of wastewater used on roads, even though chemical contents change from well to well [HB1635 § 904(f); SB790 § 707(a)2]
    • Declare that wastewater spread on roads, called “brine” [HB1635] and “produced water” [SB790] is no longer defined or regulated as “waste”
    • Prevents PA DEP from “impos[ing] conditions” that require wastewater to be any better or different than a commercial product it’s meant to replace [HB 1635 § 904(d); SB790  § 707(a)2] even though it is very different. Oil and gas wastewater contains naturally-occurring and added toxins that other commercial products do not. 
  • Allow operators to spill up to 5 barrels of oil and 15 barrels of oil and gas wastewater and never report it to anyone [SB790 § 704(f)2; HB1635 § 1103(b)2]
  • Prohibit communities from creating more protective local rules for oil and gas operations near homes, schools, parks, etc. by preempting municipal control [SB790 § 706; HB1635 § 902] 

Why would these legislators want to put the public at risk by restricting testing, reducing tracking and reporting, and dispersing unknown chemicals onto roads where we live, work, travel, play, and grow food? 

Perhaps it has something to do with the tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars they receive from the industry. They also like to perpetuate the myth that conventional oil and gas operations are benign–when in fact, DEP data show that violations by conventional operators are on the rise and occur at more than half of such sites. 

Senator Scarnati has received more money from the oil and gas industry than any other current legislator. Representative Causer has also been lobbied and supported by the industry during his tenure. The oil and gas industry spent $46.6 million on lobbying in Harrisburg between 2010 and 2017.  They made political campaign contributions totaling $14.5 million over that same time period. Senator Scarnati has received $693,971. Causer has received $22,500. 

Our elected officials need to hear from the citizen lobby – us – in order to protect our communities, our families, our rights and the environment. Here’s what you can do: 

Call your municipal officials and ask if your township or city has used oil and gas “brine” wastewater on your local roads in the past. Request they not do so in the future until the state requires every batch of wastewater “brine” to be tested for every potential toxin.  

Subscribe to Earthworks’ updates so we can alert you the next time these bills are on the table. In the meantime, check out Earthworks’ national report on oil and gas waste: Still Wasting Away.