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DEP to Require Unconventional Well Operators to Disclose Chemicals Before Use

The state Department of Environmental Protection will now require natural gas operators to publicly list the chemicals that are used in the drilling and hydraulic fracturing process before the development of a well begins.

The change, announced by Gov. Josh Shapiro, is the next step in enacting changes in the regulation of the natural gas industry, and follows through on a recommendation made by a statewide grand jury in 2020 when he was the attorney general; That report found “systemic failure” in the state’s regulation of the industry to protect the health, safety, and welfare of residents.

While gas well operators must include the chemicals used in drilling and fracking fluids as part of their site-specific Preparedness, Prevention, and Contingency (PPC) plans, those were only submitted to DEP at its request. Now, companies will be required to submit the well’s PPC plans prior to drilling, and DEP plans to put all PPC documents on its Oil and Gas Mapping website, where they will be readily available to the public.

Gas well developers use a number of chemicals in their fluids to assist with fracturing of the shale layers and drilling process, and some of them can be harmful. There has been concern about the health effects of fracking on nearby residents and the migration of those fracking chemicals into groundwater and water supplies. The state Department of Health undertook a study of the health effects of fracking in the wake of the grand jury report, which determined that natural gas drilling in southwestern Pennsylvania was linked to at least one form of childhood cancer, as well as more severe asthma and slightly lower birth weights.

The disclosure of chemicals requirement follows Shapiro’s announcement late last year of a collaboration with natural gas operator CNX, which 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 fracked.

“We’re going to follow through on our commitment to ensure the health and safety of our communities while maintaining Pennsylvania’s proud energy legacy and our commonwealth’s critical role in the nation’s energy economy,” Shapiro said in a statement.

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