Several members of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus recently introduced a legislative package aimed at tightening restrictions on natural gas drilling and hydraulic fracturing. The legislation addresses recommendations made last year by a statewide grand jury following a two-year investigation.
The grand jury resulted in criminal charges against several natural gas producers and a report from the attorney general’s office that highlighted what the panel found were “systemic failures” by the state Department of Environmental Resources and Department of Health in protecting the environment and public health.
The Democratic legislative effort, led by state Sen. Steve Santarsiero, is a package of eight bills. S.B. 650-657, aimed at increasing transparency, oversight and the overall safe management of gas drilling operations in the fracking industry.
“Last year, the grand jurors called on Pennsylvania to make concrete changes to reduce the health and safety risks on a fracking industry left unchecked by regulators impacting families across Pennsylvania. It is common sense to ensure fracking isn’t happening next to a school or too close to someone’s home. It is common sense for companies to be transparent about the chemicals they are using near the water supplies of homes,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said in a press release.
The package of bills would address the following recommendations:
Expanding no-drill zones in Pennsylvania from the required 500 feet to 2,500 feet; and 5,000 feet from schools, hospitals, and reservoirs;
Requiring fracking companies to publicly disclose all chemicals used in drilling and hydraulic fracturing;
Requiring the regulation of gathering pipelines, used to transport unconventional gas hundreds of miles;
Adding up all sources of air pollution in a given area to accurately assess air quality;
Requiring safer transport of the contaminated waste created from fracking sites;
Conducting a comprehensive health response to the effects of living near unconventional drilling sites;
Limiting the ability of DEP employees to be employed in the private sector immediately after leaving the department; and,
Allowing the attorney general’s office original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies.
“This package of bills should’ve been enacted before a single permit was approved by the DEP,” said Sen. Katie Muth, a co-sponsor of the legislative package “For over ten years, Pennsylvanians have been left in the dark about the cumulative health impacts of the extraction industry and often have no idea what kind of harmful chemicals are being used right in their backyard or leaching into their water supplies. The recommendations included in report one of the 43rd Statewide Investigative Grand Jury Report are commonsense, proactive measures that will increase transparency about the hydraulic fracturing process.”
The legislation is unlikely to be considered by the Republican-controlled Legislature, whose members have pushed for loosening regulations on drillers. Republican Sen Gene Yaw called the legislation “an effort to peddle misinformation” and pointed out that the DEP disputed the grand jury’s report, calling it inaccurate.
While the legislation is supported by a number of environmental groups, it was met with opposition by various industry groups, and probably will not be the vehicle for making changes to the regulations surrounding unconventional gas drilling.