By David Spigelmyer
In the event that you did not read Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s 243-paged natural gas report in its entirety, here’s the key takeaway: factually, legally inaccurate.
That’s how dedicated Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) professionals described it, with the state’s top environmental regulators adding that Shapiro’s two-year taxpayer-funded effort “presents an inaccurate and incomplete picture of Pennsylvania’s regulatory program.”
Sadly, with political season in overdrive, this is yet another example of some elected officials manufacturing pre-selected narratives to promote themselves rather than taking an unbiased and intellectually honest approach to assessing facts.
The tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians who work across the energy sector – building and union trades, engineers and environmental professionals, health and safety experts, and countless other family-owned businesses – place the highest priority on having strong rules of engagement, heightened regulatory compliance and transparency.
We are proud of the commitment to our environment, communities and the collaborative engagement taken over the past decade – spanning three governors, two Democratic and one Republican – to ensure Pennsylvania’s regulations mandate safety and environmental protection.
Our members, who produce 95% of the natural gas in Pennsylvania, have supported significant fee increases to further enhance DEP’s strong oversight, proactively heightened chemical disclosures prior to it becoming law, agreed to stricter setback requirements, expanded and pioneered innovative water recycling and reuse practices, and advocated for air emission rules on upstream and midstream facilities to name a few of the meaningful regulatory and voluntary actions.
These multi-stakeholder actions – aimed at safety and compliance – have been highlighted by the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulations (STRONGER), an environmental regulatory review organization, which has repeatedly praised Pennsylvania’s highly effective regulatory programs.
“Pennsylvania has a rigorous process for developing regulations, reviewing regulations and obtaining input from various stakeholders including the public,” a STRONGER report concluded. The nonpartisan commission also found that Pennsylvania’s well completion reporting standards and chemical disclosure laws “exceed public disclosure and reporting requirements.”
No other aspect of our economy is under the same level of intense scrutiny as the natural gas industry, which is why DEP rightfully underscores the fact that Shapiro’s report is “a disservice to the citizens of the Commonwealth.”
Despite Shapiro’s politically charged overtures, nearly four dozen separate state laws have modernized the process for natural gas development. Additionally, many federal statutes apply to the management of Pennsylvania’s shale gas development, along with seven technical guidance documents and 28 permit programs administered by the DEP.
Having laws and regulations in place is one thing, but what if they’re not being enforced, as Shapiro suggests?
From 2010 to 2019, DEP inspected unconventional well sites 134,681 times, including more than 19,000 well site inspections last year with 677 unconventional wells being drilled, the highest to date.
In fact, much of the so-called policy recommendations outlined in Shapiro’s report are laws already on the books or, alternatively, would result in an effective ban on safe, job-creating natural gas development.
When it comes to chemical disclosure, our members began voluntary disclosure prior to it being required by law in 2012.
While hydraulic fracturing fluids are typically made up of 99.5-plus percent water and sand, the small amount of additives – commonly applied with foods and everyday household products – can be accessed on a per-well basis in the national online clearinghouse FracFocus.org.
Furthermore, Pennsylvania’s existing setback requirements already represent the second highest in the nation. Expanding them as Shapiro advocates, is an arbitrary distance not grounded in science or fact, as DEP explained in its response, and would effectively ban natural gas development in the state, denying tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians their property rights.
It is easy to stand behind a podium and rattle off political talking points. But what would the impact of Shapiro’s de facto natural gas ban mean for Pennsylvania’s economy? According to U.S. Chamber of Commerce research, banning natural gas production would destroy 600,000 Pennsylvania jobs and result in $261 billion hit to the Commonwealth’s economy.
Maybe that sounds like good news to the anti-fracking Hollywood elite crowds, who Shapiro is cozy with, but for hard-working Pennsylvania families, small businesses and consumers, that kind of pain would be devastating.
The facts, evidence and data are clear – Pennsylvania’s environmental standards and regulatory framework are among the nation’s most rigorous and modernized.
For anyone to suggest that we are not protecting our environment and public health while responsibly and safely producing clean and abundant American natural gas should better understand the facts and science behind natural gas energy development. We need more intellectual honesty, and less pandering to Hollywood elites who cheer when middle-class jobs are destroyed.
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