Companies involved in the shale gas industry in Pennsylvania are under the microscope of several state and federal agencies. The industry has not come into the state quietly and has given these agencies an abundance of reasons for investigations, though one pipeline, in particular, seems to be sparking many inquiries from law enforcement entities.
Investigations by state agencies are not new. Since the shale boom began in 2008, there have been dozens of investigations of gas companies from state agencies such as the Public Utility Commission and state Department of Environmental Protection that have resulted in violation notices and civil penalties.
Attorney General Josh Shapiro has also been vocal about his intentions to hold the industry accountable for any potential environmental crimes in the Commonwealth. Reports indicate that Shapiro’s interest in the industry is driven by Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution, the Environmental Rights Amendment, which ensures Pennsylvanians’ right to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment”.
Shapiro has stated that there are several ongoing investigations and says to expect criminal charges to be filed in at least some of the cases. One case in particular, which Shapiro discussed with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, is the investigation into Inflection Energy and Double D Construction, who together are accused of dumping 63,000 gallons of wastewater brine into the Loyalsock Creek in northeast Pennsylvania.
The state and federal governments both have eyes on one project in particular: Energy Transfer’s Revolution Pipeline in Beaver County, which exploded shortly after becoming operational in 2018. The Revolution Pipeline has been watched by the Department of Environmental Protection from the planning phases, leading the department to not consider new permit applications from Energy Transfer and eventually reach a $30.6 million settlement. The Public Utility Commission, which has jurisdiction over the gathering pipelines, has also had a watchful eye on the Revolution, and currently has an open investigation into Energy Transfer’s compliance with state and federal regulations.
The federal government is now joining these state agencies in their investigatory efforts. Late last year, the Department of Justice formally launched an investigation into Energy Transfer for the 2018 explosion, and in their operations, according to financial filings.
The potential for criminal charges against energy companies is new territory for the shale gas industry that will be watched closely by industry representatives, elected officials and environmental groups.