Casey Statement for EPA Field Hearing on Fracking

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) today released the following statement to be read at tonight’s U.S. Environmental Protection Agency public listening session in Canonsburg about the proposed study of hydraulic fracturing and potential impacts on drinking water:

“Natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale region is a major issue for many towns and communities throughout Pennsylvania.  If done in the proper way, natural gas development has the potential to create Pennsylvania jobs, strengthen our State’s economy, and reduce our dependence on foreign energy.  However, despite its potential benefits, natural gas drilling presents a concern for the people living near these drilling sites.  

“We already bear the burden of some environmental legacies, most created in previous generations when Federal regulations that promoted responsible development did not exist.  We have old natural gas wells that were not capped and leaked methane into homes in our State.  We have acid mine drainage that we spend millions of dollars every year to remediate.  There are lessons contained in these examples from which we need to learn.

“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.  But I believe it is important to protect the health and safety of Pennsylvanians 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 that hydraulic fracturing be regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act.  This would ensure 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.

“Hydraulic fracturing (fracking) involves the use of sometimes toxic chemicals that are injected underground, often in close proximity to underground sources of drinking water.  It is the highly variable and unpredictable nature of the process that can lead to the contamination of ground water and drinking water that is of great concern to me.

“Incidents of drinking water contamination where hydraulic fracturing is considered as a suspected cause have not been sufficiently investigated.  Some cases where groundwater was contaminated during fracking operations have been attributed to other causes, such as faulty well structure, even if a well failed during the fracking process.

“Every day I hear from Pennsylvanians who worry about their future access to safe drinking water.  The protection of underground water sources is especially important to Pennsylvania because we have the second highest number of private drinking water wells in the Nation; three million Pennsylvanians are dependent on private wells to provide safe drinking water to their homes.

“I wholeheartedly commend EPA for undertaking this study on hydraulic fracturing and its effects on drinking water.  The reasons for my supporting the Congressional request for this study are many.  Recent incidents in the State raise the question of whether the necessary steps have been taken to protect Pennsylvania families and communities against the detrimental side effects of drilling.  

“For example, in September 2009, there was a surface water contamination incident in Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania. According to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), between 6,000 and 8,000 gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid leaked from a pipe at a drill site and contaminated the surrounding area and a wetland in Susquehanna County.  There were two separate spills on the same day.  The first spill in the afternoon leaked 25 to 50 barrels of hydraulic fracturing fluid and the second spill in the evening leaked 140 barrels.

“In addition to incidents in Susquehanna County, there have been other contamination events across Pennsylvania.  Water wells in Washington County, and other counties, have tested positive for chemicals above EPA’s screening levels.  A gas well in Clearfield County blew out post-fracturing, sending thousands of gallons of flowback water into the environment.

“I know that Pennsylvania has been permitting and managing natural gas development with the paramount goal of protecting the environment and public health.  I commend the State DEP for taking steps to strengthen its regulations regarding drilling, and adding additional DEP staff to assist with the increased interest in gas drilling in the state.  

“However, it is important for EPA to continue to investigate and respond to water contamination in order to protect human health and the environment.  Given the numerous reported cases of groundwater contamination potentially related to hydraulic fracturing, a robust analysis of the impact is warranted.  We need to know to what our citizens are being exposed, and the risk that hydraulic fracturing poses to our water.  Drinking water is a critical resource, and we cannot afford to take unnecessary risks with human and environmental health.”