The Environment Impact of Natural Gas Drilling

Concerns about the environment impact of natural gas drilling are well-founded, but often overstated. A common misconception is that the hydraulic fracturing process has contaminated many wells and groundwater. This myth has been busted by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). However, accidents can happen above ground, a fact that was illustrated in a Scranton Times Tribune article last week.

Mary Pat Tomei, a legislative staffer, has repeatedly, via Twitter, used the article to call the Commonwealth Foundation “deniers”, based on statements of fact from our policy brief on natural gas drilling like:

While a legitimate concern, there is no conclusive evidence that hydraulic fracturing has caused the contamination of drinking water in Pennsylvania. In the last 15 years, 32,000 wells were drilled and there have been fewer than 80 cases (0.25%) of groundwater impacts from drilling (and no health impacts).

We have only reported what the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the DEP, or sometime the equivalent department in other states, have found. In fact, in most cases Ms. Tomei cites, the DEP has found other causes of contamination or eliminated natural gas drilling as a potential cause.

If Ms. Tomei believes DEP is falsify these findings, she should

  1. Call on DEP Secretary John Hanger to resign his post, as he has abdicated his responsibility.
  2. Call for the elimination of DEP, as the agency cannot be trusted to protect the environment.

The Scranton Times article gets its information from the DEP’s records, all of which are public information. It cites examples of spills that are inexcusable; e.g. hydrochloric acid, while allowed in the fracturing fluids, should never have been above the maximum limits, acidifying the fluid. Yet the spills were neutralized and contaminated soil was removed.

The majorities of violations are minor, have minimal affects, and are aggressively addressed by the drilling company. This year alone, DEP inspectors discovered and rectified 421 violations, holding these companies accountable.

Any industry will have violations and should be held accountable for them; the drilling industry is no exception. Allied Waste Systems of Pennsylvania, a solid waste disposal service was recently fined $650,000 operational violations and in Lycoming County 39 trash haulers were cited for violating waste transportation safety laws. The citations by the DEP demonstrate a check and balance a system, which is working.

We would encourage anyone to read the DEP gas drilling violations database available on the Scranton Times website. The system of using license fees to fund DEP oversight and fining firms for violations is generally working, and proposals to tax gas extraction will have no environmental benefits.