Home A project of States Newsroom
Commentary
Opinion: Time to move on fracking safety measures

Share

Opinion: Time to move on fracking safety measures

Nov 29, 2023 | 7:00 am ET
By Special to the Capital-Star
Share
Opinion: Time to move on fracking safety measures
Description
Pennsylvania Capitol Building in Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg for the Capital-Star).

By Molly Parzen

For years, advocates have been calling on Harrisburg to implement commonsense safety regulations to mitigate harmful health impacts of fracking – particularly for children and other vulnerable populations. 

Gov. Josh Shapiro has taken a step forward in delivering for these impacted communities. Now, it’s time for the state legislature to do the same. 

A growing body of scientific research is showing what advocates have long suspected: that fracking is connected to serious negative impacts for families who live nearby. 

An array of scientific studies have associated fracking with serious negative health outcomes, from an increased risk of certain types of childhood cancers to premature death in residents who live near fracking activities. 

The fluids used in fracking can contain highly toxic chemicals, which can leak into groundwater. Fracking can also dredge up dangerous radioactive rock formations that are naturally occurring and found in shale deposits. And the fracking process can also release dangerous pollution into the air, increasing the risk of asthma and other respiratory and pulmonary diseases. 

Yet for years, the oil and gas industry has used its political clout and generous campaign donations to bottle up any attempt to impose commonsense safety measures on drillers. 

That changed earlier this month, when Gov. Shapiro directed the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to begin the process of implementing new regulations designed to improve the safety of impacted communities while reducing emissions of methane from wells — a potent greenhouse gas. 

Once implemented, these new rules will increase transparency of the chemicals used in drilling, better protect communities from the toxic wastewater created by fracking, improve corrosion protections and enhance inspections of drilling equipment. 

They build upon Shapiro’s work as attorney general, where his investigations of the oil and gas industry led to the release of a state grand jury report that highlighted the urgent need for reforms to protect Pennsylvania families from the harmful impacts of this extractive industry. 

But Shapiro’s move only represents a first step. 

Many of the recommendations in the grand jury report require legislative action. 

While legislation to improve fracking safety requirements have languished in the legislature for years, a legislative committee recently held a hearing on a bill by Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Chester) to impose setbacks on drilling operations to increase the minimum distance between fracking infrastructure and homes, schools and other buildings. 

This legislation responds to the growing scientific consensus that families closest to drilling activities are at the greatest risk from negative health impacts. 

While Gov. Shapiro recently secured a commitment from CNX to implement setbacks from the state-mandated 500 feet to 600 feet for all sites, and increases them to 2,500 feet for sensitive sites like hospitals and schools, we need a statewide approach. 

It’s not feasible for the governor to negotiate voluntary setbacks on a company-by-company basis for an entire industry. 

While fracking companies remain a powerful force in Harrisburg, it’s time for lawmakers to put the safety of Pennsylvania families over the profits of their corporate campaign contributors.

At the same time, improved setbacks are just one of eight recommendations to come out of the grand jury report. 

We need swift legislative consideration on an array of measures to protect the health of safety of our most vulnerable residents. 

Let’s get to work fully implementing the grand jury report’s recommendations.

Molly Parzen is Executive Director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. 

Related News