In a first-of-its-kind collaboration, natural gas operator CNX has voluntarily agreed to undertake air quality monitoring and comprehensive groundwater testing at all future well pad sites and make that information available in real-time to the public. CNX also voluntarily agreed to publicly disclose the chemicals that will be used before a well is hydraulically fractured, or fracked, make its radioactive waste protection plan available, and increase setback limits of well pads. The statement of mutual interests signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro and CNX CEO Nick DeIuliis was announced last week, with many of the company’s actions addressing recommendations made by a statewide grand jury in a 2020 report that found “systemic failure” in the state’s oversight of the oil and gas industry that endangered public health. CNX also agreed to provide the state Department of Environmental Protection with “unprecedented access” to two future well sites so the agency can conduct a comprehensive air and water quality study, Shapiro said at a press conference. “The administration will follow the facts and data through this air and water quality monitoring, along with all other relevant facts and data, to inform the necessity of any additional setbacks or other future policy changes,” the statement states. Shapiro, who was attorney general at the time of the grand jury investigation, has pushed for more accountability in the industry.
“It’s been 3 ½ years (since the grand jury recommendations) and nothing has changed in the General Assembly,” Shapiro said. “In fact, they haven’t even taken a vote. I’m tired of waiting.” DeIuliis called the company’s agreement “radical transparency.” He said the company wants to help provide the data on health and safety effects that has been lacking, to “follow the data” instead of relying on “rhetoric, speculation and the sensational headlines” about the safety of unconventional good development. He urged other companies to join CNX in the effort. The company agreed to voluntarily change its setback on future well pads from the state-mandated 500 feet to 600 feet, and to 2,500 feet from schools and hospitals and not to hire any former Department of Environmental Protection staffer from the regional office that has oversight on a well for two years after they leave the department. A recent Department of Health study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh School for Public Health found that living near a gas well during fracking is associated with a higher risk of at least one form of childhood cancer as well as increased asthma. There have been calls for more comprehensive studies to be done, while industry groups have questioned the methodology of the study. Shapiro said his administration will also begin advancing three of the grand jury’s recommendations through DEP’s authority. They include disclosure of chemicals, improved control of methane emissions, and improved corrosion protections in gathering pipelines. Other recommendations must be enacted by the legislature and Shapiro said he hopes the data from the collaboration with CNX will provide the facts needed for agreement.