No wonder Pennsylvania doesn’t want to talk about fracking anymore


In Pennsylvania on Tuesday, Gov. Tom Corbett gave his annual televised budget address. It was in this setting, two years ago, that the Republican governor famously made his pledge to make Pennsylvania “the Texas of natural gas,” with fracking rigs from border to border, even on college campuses as a way to make up for decreased taxpayer support for higher education.

But this year, Corbett didn’t have anything to say — good or bad — about fracking and the boom that may have already peaked atop the Marcellus Shale formation, leaving behind polluted wells and kitchen faucets that have been known to light up with a match. That’s actually par for the course. Pennsylvania officials are suddenly going out of their way to avoid talking about natural gas drilling.

This episode was reported by the New York Times:

A war of words has broken out between environmentalists and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection over the cancellation of a meeting on the state’s testing of water from water wells near natural-gas drilling sites.

A meeting of 25 environmentally themed groups, the department’s oil and gas division and the state Department of Health’s Bureau of Laboratories had been set for Jan. 24 after the disclosure last November that department scientists had omitted data on some toxic metals found in water taken from a site in southwestern Pennsylvania.

On Jan. 22, the department informed the groups that the meeting was being deferred until an unspecified date, according to Iris Marie Bloom, director of Protecting Our Waters, a group based in Philadelphia that had planned to take part.

Now environmental groups in Pennsylvania are saying the meeting collapse is one more sign that state regulators are more interested in protecting industry and its practices than in safeguarding the state’s natural resources. It’s hard to disagree with that take. The official excuse given by the state Department of Environmental Protection — that one of the environmental groups planned to use it as a forum for blasting its commissioner Michael Krancer — is lame beyond belief.

The bigger picture is becoming clear — Pennsylvania officials don’t want an open discussion of what half-a-dozen years of runaway fracking has done to the state, because it’s not a pretty picture. Listen to what a group of everyday Pennsylvanians warned New Yorkers — who are still weighing whether to allow widespread fracking in the Empire State — about how gas drilling has changed their lives forever:

Linda Hadley, whose landlord leased the property she was living on to two gas drilling companies that used hydrofracking as an extraction method, said the industry has poisoned the air, water and soil on her farm. But Hadley said it was the treatment by the companies and their representatives that brought so much frustration.

“We have been lied to, stolen from and verbally abused,” said Hadley. “Being told that ‘we should not have built our house here,’… we have been told by a land man that ‘we are a pain in his ass,’ all the while they are affecting the health and welfare of my family, my children, my animals and our community.”

Listen to another Pennsylvanian:

Ray Kimble used to work for the gas industry as a wastewater and water delivery truck driver and said he was ordered to illegally dispose of fracking wastewater. He was asked to use the same freshwater truck he used to deliver water to people’s homes to transport wastewater from fracking fluids.

“I’ve worked for every gas company there was… the practice is the same; it doesn’t matter what name is on the company,” Kimble said. “I kept a truck at my place for three days trying to get EPA to come test and prove there was [waste water] … They refused to come check the truck, they didn’t care.”

No wonder top state officials like Gov. Corbett have gone in just two years from bragging about Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry to sweeping it under the rug. The question is why places like New York would let fracking in the front door, unless they can develop a new regulatory framework that will protect people’s drinking water and the air that they breathe. Hopefully, they will hear the voices of citizens before it’s too late.

Read the New York Times coverage of the state’s postponement of a public fracking discussion at:

To learn more from the Legislative Gazette about Pennsylvania citizens and their fracking woes, please read:

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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