Once upon a time, Pennsylvania was a place where change seemed possible. New protections for air, water, and health were on the horizon and the hurdles to reach them were being surmounted.
But then the dark forces of denial and industry influence came sweeping in. Now Pennsylvania is plagued with an assault on environmental protections and clean energy.
This comes in the form of very bad bills that would derail much needed upgrades to oil and gas regulations, allow large industries to opt out of energy efficiency requirements, and delay air emission reductions. Legislators even want to give themselves more power to block health, safety, and environmental regulations.
Fortunately organizations and legislative heroes are fighting back hard. Earthworks is particularly concerned about Senate Bill 279, which would kill revised regulations contained in Chapter 78 of the Oil and Gas Act.
The passage of SB 279 would make Pennsylvania the only state in the nation to abandon oil and gas regulations after they’ve been fully developed and vetted. Other states have added on to their regulations to cover new shale operations, but have never completely exempted existing conventional operations in the process.
All types of drilling can have negative environmental and health impacts. Long before shale drilling and horizontal fracking, oil and gas development was polluting water, air, and land from New Mexico to Alabama to New York.
It’s pure fantasy for the backers of SB 279 to assert that Pennsylvania's conventional oil and gas operations are benign. It’s also pure folly to continue to allow conventional drillers to be subject to old regulations that haven’t been updated in 30 years. Today, conventional drillers rely on hydraulic fracturing, use polluting new chemicals and equipment, and generate toxic waste.
According to data from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), in 2014, conventional drillers were responsible for three-quarters of regulatory violations. Between 2008-2014, conventional operators were involved in 60% of the cases in which oil and gas activities contaminated private water supplies. The state’s conventional drillers have created a dirty legacy of 200,000 abandoned wells, which can leak down into groundwater and up into the air.
Chapter 78 has been five years in the making, including 12 public hearings, 30,000 public comments, and approval votes by state regulatory committees. The other bills would also reverse established public processes and laws. If the legislature insists on a power grab, Governor Tom Wolf should wield his veto pen.
Clearly many legislators believe the industry fairy tales long used to derail health and environmental protections, but the people impacted by oil and gas development don’t have that luxury. They expect elected officials to understand, and fight, the perils of life in the real world.