Marcellus Shale Coalition strikes back at grand jury report blasting fracking industry

The trade group representing the unconventional drilling industry fired back at the state attorney general and the grand jury report released last week that blasted the industry and the state departments charged with overseeing it.

“The attorney general’s report exhibits a jarring lack of reality as to how shale gas development occurs in Pennsylvania,” David Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, said in a letter to the state General Assembly.

The 243-page grand jury report blasted the fracking industry as well as the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health for failing to investigate and hold accountable oil and gas companies they allege were polluting the water and air.

Spigelmyer wrote that much of the report “conveys ‘evidence’ that simply relays anecdotal stories offered without proof, corroboration or attribution” and doesn’t offer anything to substantiate the claims made by residents.

He wrote that state residents “deserve better than a report which ignores facts and science, is ignorant of current law, omits several dozen regulatory enhancements made over more than a decade, lobs unsubstantiated allegations of uncorroborated events, questions the integrity of state environmental regulators and seeks to sensationalize that which the Attorney General clearly does not understand.”

Shapiro expected ‘bogus’ response

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, in presenting the report, predicted the attack on anecdotal evidence.

“They’re going to say that this report is anecdotal and there’s no proof that any of this was really caused by fracking,” he said during a press conference in Harrisburg. “They’ll roll out so-called experts that they’ve paid. They’ll hold up all the donations they’ve made to the community.”

He preemptively called such a response “bogus.”

The letter to the General Assembly purported that the grand jury report was written by Shapiro’s office and provided to the grand jury. Spigelmyer wrote that the “sheer breadth of factual inaccuracies, misrepresentations, legal omissions and unsubstantiated allegations” prompted his letter.

He questioned whether Shapiro or any member of the grand jury had ever visited any active industry sites.

A spokesperson for Shapiro on Wednesday released a statement, saying the report speaks for itself: “The fracker’s powerful lobby can’t refute the health consequences that go along with living next to a drill site, from nosebleeds and sores to dangerous water, so it is no surprise they chose to attack these citizens and their report in order to protect their bottom line.”

Ryan Steadley, executive director of the State Review of Oil and Natural Gas Environmental Regulators, or STRONGER, said his group did not have any specific comments on the grand jury report, but did point to the six reviews it conducted of Pennsylvania drilling regulations between 1992 and 2015. They are available at StrongerInc.org.

STRONGER is a nonprofit that develops guidelines for drilling regulation and then reviews regulatory programs in states who volunteer.

Disputing grand jury recommendations

The grand jury report made eight recommendations and pushed for those to be adopted by the Legislature. Spigelmyer’s letter hit back at seven of them.

For example, the report recommended expanding no-drill zones from 500 feet away from an occupied structure to 2,500 feet. Spigelmyer’s response points to Act 13, the 2012 law that created stiffer regulations and guidelines for unconventional drilling and expanded setbacks for drilling.

“These setback distances were unanimously endorsed by leading environmental organizations and local government associations,” he wrote, noting that the law “became a model for other states.”

A 2,500-foot setback would “essentially make much of the shale play in the Commonwealth undevelopable,” he said.

The report also encouraged a comprehensive look at the health impact of living near drilling sites. Spigelmyer said that employees already have “every incentive” to make sure drilling is done safely, as they “live in the very communities in which we operate.”

Correlation, he said, is not causation, noting the industry supports a “broad-based, impartial approach to studying health impacts” that also accounts for other risk and environment factors.

DEP defends efforts

The grand jury report blasted the DEP, alleging a lack of oversight and a blind eye toward violations. Former DEP Secretary Michael Krancer, who oversaw the department from January 2011 to April 2013, issued his own response to the report, calling it an attack on DEP employees.

“Were we perfect? Of course not, and we never claimed to be,” he wrote in a nine-page response. “Did we make mistakes? Yes, we never claimed we didn’t. No government, much less any organization, is ever perfect. But to besmirch the entire agency and all 3,000 employees as is done here is unfair.”

Krancer refuted the notion that DEP’s oversight was lacking, saying the department implemented laws passed by the Legislature and did even more “via regulation, police, guidance and ‘boots on the ground.’”

He said the department carefully studied public health concerns and were “tough but fair” on drillers.

Krancer also applauded the 56-page response from the DEP that was included in the report as “an appropriate defense of the work of the Department’s dedicated management and personnel.”

The DEP’s response to the report expressed surprise at “the extent of the factual inaccuracies and confused articulation” in the draft of the grand jury report officials saw prior to its release. They asserted they had a limited opportunity to testify in front of the jury.

The jury’s findings, the DEP said in its response, is an incomplete picture of regulations and “relies on unidentified witness snapshots, in some cases from 10-15 years ago.”

They went on to say that the report does not adequately explain the laws the DEP relies on to regulate the oil and gas industry and does not acknowledge check and balances contained within.

The response also outlines the regulatory process currently in place.

Megan Guza and Patrick Varine are Tribune-Review staff writers. You can contact Megan at mguza@triblive.com, and you can reach Patrick at pvarine@triblive.com.

Categories:
News | Pennsylvania | Top Stories

Published at Wed, 01 Jul 2020 04:01:00 +0000

Source: Marcellus Shale Coalition strikes back at grand jury report blasting fracking industry.

Categories: News

About Author