Casey Calls on Strong Protections and Public Input as DRBC Examines Regulations

Also calls for increased disclosure and better emergency response

WASHINGTON, DC - U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today sent a letter to the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) as it considers regulation of natural gas wells in the Delaware River Basin.  Senator Casey expressed concern for water quality and the need to have public input and review of any new regulations.

“Natural gas has played, and will continue to play, an important role in our energy portfolio as we transition to a new energy future, and we are fortunate to have domestic resources to help meet our growing needs,” wrote Senator Casey.  “However, we must develop the Marcellus Shale using the best practices to protect our communities, our people and our environment.”

Senator Casey also called on the DRBC to implement some of the measures he has proposed at the federal level including public disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and enhanced emergency response measures to protect workers and the community in the event of a well blowout or other emergency.

Senator Casey also wrote: “I urge the Commission to institute strong measures to continue to protect water quality and quantity in the basin.  I further encourage the Commission to move deliberately and to provide ample time and opportunity for public input and review.”

Senator Casey introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act (S.1215) to repeal an exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require the disclosure of the chemicals used in their hydraulic fracturing processes. 

Senator Casey has introduced legislation to help prepare Pennsylvania workers for jobs in the natural gas industry.  The Marcellus Shale On-the-Job Training Act of 2010 (S.3720) will authorize grants to strengthen On-the-Job Training programs to help ensure natural gas drilling jobs go to Pennsylvanians and not workers from out-of-state.

Senator Casey also plans to introduce legislation to improve emergency response at oil and gas wells.  The Faster Action Safety Team Emergency Response (FASTER) Act of 2010 provides the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with the ability to draft regulations that will enhance emergency response procedures at oil and gas wells.  Senator Casey chaired a hearing in Pittsburgh in July to gather comments on his proposal.

The full text of the letter to Carol Collier, Executive Director of the DRBC, is below.

October 13, 2010

Ms. Carol Collier
Executive Director
Delaware River Basin Commission
25 State Police Drive
P.O. Box 7360
West Trenton, NJ 08628-0360

Dear Ms. Collier:

As the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) considers regulations to oversee drilling of natural gas wells in the Delaware River watershed, I urge the Commission to institute strong measures to continue to protect water quality and quantity in the basin.  I further encourage the Commission to move deliberately and to provide ample time and opportunity for public input and review.

Natural gas has played, and will continue to play, an important role in our energy portfolio as we transition to a new energy future, and we are fortunate to have domestic resources to help meet our growing needs.  However, we must develop the Marcellus Shale using the best practices to protect our communities, our people and our environment.

I urge the Commission to note the concerns of the National Park Service and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regarding the need to protect natural resources in the region, including pristine forestland and species habitat, ultimately to preserve the quality of water in the basin.  Protection of source waters and environmentally sensitive areas are extremely important in considering the collective effects that gas drilling and ancillary activities will have on the watershed.  I support the idea that DRBC request that drilling companies have comprehensive plans for siting wells and implementing drilling-related activities within the basin, and for DRBC to analyze the plans at a watershed-wide level.  As Pennsylvania provides 50 percent of the basin’s total land area, it is also important that these plans complement existing and future Department of Environmental Protection regulations and requirements for drilling in Pennsylvania. 

Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region is a major issue for many towns and communities throughout the Delaware River watershed.  The opportunity to develop our own natural resources has led to job creation, strengthened Pennsylvania’s economy, and reduced our dependence on foreign energy.  However, despite its many benefits, natural gas drilling presents a concern for people living near, or downstream from, drilling sites.  Hydraulic fracturing involves the use of sometimes toxic chemicals, often in close proximity to sources of drinking water.  I am greatly concerned about the variable and unpredictable nature of the process that can lead to water pollution.

I believe it is important to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians, and other residents of the Delaware River Basin, as we further develop the Marcellus Shale.  For this reason, I introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act, S. 1215, that would require hydraulic fracturing be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, ensuring that a consistent set of Federally enforceable regulatory requirements are applied to the development of our natural gas resources.  The FRAC Act would also require that the natural gas industry provide complete disclosure of the chemical composition of its hydraulic fracturing materials to ensure that if drinking water supplies, surface waters, or human health are compromised, the public and first responders will know exactly with what they are dealing.  I view this as a simple matter of citizens having a right to know about any risks in their community.  Consequently, I advocate for DRBC to include in its regulations a hydraulic fracturing fluid disclosure requirement.

I have also distributed draft legislation entitled the Faster Action Safety Team Emergency Response (FASTER) Act, which will enhance emergency response procedures at oil and gas wells. Specifically, the Act would provide the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) the power to draft regulations that will require operators to:

  • Have an employee, knowledgeable in responding to emergency situations, present at the well at all times during the exploration or drilling phase;
  • Make available a certified response team, within a reasonable time, if an emergency situation arises;
  • Contact local first responders within 15 minutes of the commencement of an emergency situation;
  • Contact OSHA within 1 hour of the commencement of an emergency situation;
  • Contact the National Response Center within 1 hour of the commencement of an emergency situation;
  • Provide communication technology at the well site (e.g., mobile communication or satellite phone);
  • Provide annual training to local first responders on the hazards of a well site and proper emergency response techniques; and
  • File an annual report with OSHA that names the certified response team assigned to each well of the operator.

I would encourage DRBC to consider requiring gas drillers to follow many of these same conditions, and notify DRBC or the relevant environmental agency in case of an emergency situation that could affect the Delaware River watershed.

Every day I hear from Pennsylvanians who worry about their access to safe drinking water.  I recognize that DRBC has an extraordinary task in protecting the water supply for over 15 million people using a multitude of water sources within the basin, including the City of Philadelphia.  I urge DRBC to establish rigorous and effective regulations for gas drilling activities in the basin, and support the paramount goal of protecting the water and related resources of the Delaware River Basin.

Thank you for your attention to this matter.  I look forward to continue working with you in the future.

Sincerely,

Robert P. Casey, Jr.
United States Senator