Published: December 16, 2009
An environmental advocacy group is promoting a series of policy recommendations it says will make natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale safer for the environment and public health.
Erika Staaf, a clean-water advocate with PennEnvironment, told The Times-Tribune editorial board on Tuesday that the organization wants to see a host of changes, including more specific disclosure of the concentrations of chemicals used in the drilling process, better protection of pristine areas and water supplies, and stiff minimum penalties for drillers who pollute.
Ms. Staaf acknowledged that such rules will likely be adopted piecemeal through legislative or regulatory changes unless there is support to "pass comprehensive legislation that addresses a lot of these concerns."
The environmental group is particularly concerned with the large volumes of water necessary to break apart the shale and the currently inadequate options for treating the tainted water that returns to the surface, she said.
"We haven't seen one wastewater treatment plant that has proven that it can remove every single component of the drilling wastewater," she said.
The organization is promoting a proposed treatment standard developed by the Department of Environmental Protection that would limit the amount of highly salty drilling wastewater that is discharged into state rivers. Public hearings on that issue will be held today at 5 p.m. in the regional DEP office in Williamsport and at the Lehigh County Government Center in Allentown on Thursday.
PennEnvironment also wants to see a mandated minimum 1,000-foot buffer between a well site and a private drinking water source and a half-mile buffer between a gas well and any public drinking water supply, Ms. Staaf said. The group encourages allowing easy public access to records that show where water is being withdrawn from state rivers and the specific path the wastewater travels until it is treated or reused.
Ms. Staaf said her organization, like other state environmental groups, is seeking a more holistic approach to environmental considerations about drilling as natural gas production increases in Pennsylvania.
"What are the cumulative impacts of many wells next to one another on the local watershed, on the air quality, on the land?" she asked. "We know what one well does, but if we're never looking at a larger view of it, it's difficult to assess."