Thursday, April 18, 2019

A Former Governor Admitted He Put Economics Ahead of Safety When Approving Fracking Projects

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, who presided over the state’s fracking boom of the mid-2000s, admitted the state’s fracking regulations favored economics over environmental safety during much of his tenure.

“I made a mistake in the rush to get the economic part of fracking delivered to Pennsylvania,” said Rendell during an event at the Democrat National Convention Wednesday, State Impact reported. “We didn’t regulate well construction and….frack water as well as we should. We cured that in 2010 and we haven’t had any significant incidents since.”

Rendell, a former chairman of the Democratic National Committee, governed Pennsylvania from 2003 to 2011. That was right when improvements in fracking technology made Pennsylvania’s vast Marcellus Shale gas resources economically viable. During his tenure, companies rushed to exploit what is now one of the largest natural gas reservoirs in the United States and the source of more than 35 percent of the country’s shale gas as of 2015. The boom brought millions of dollars and new jobs to Pennsylvania, but also countless allegations of environmental violations and lawsuits.

Hydraulic fracturing is the pumping of large quantities of water mixed with sand and chemicals at high pressure into wells to extract gas and oil from rock. The practice has been controversial in Pennsylvania — and elsewhere — over concerns of how the wastewater is disposed, and because wells have been known to leak, polluting nearby aquifers with gas and turning the water toxic and at times even flammable. Just in March, a federal court found Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. — one of Pennsylvania’s largest oil and gas companies — guilty of polluting the well water of two Pennsylvania families.

Rendell’s comments come at a time when the anti-fracking movement has been growing across the nation. Thousands marched in Philadelphia Sunday, a day before the Democratic National Convention began, and called for a nationwide fracking ban and major investments in renewable energy. Rendell’s comments also explicitly acknowledged that environmental laws were overlooked as the state tried to profit from fracking, an issue that environmentalists long said was taking place as companies moved into the state. Moreover, he inadvertently raised questions as to whether the issues were adequately addressed, and whether real solutions were actually put in place during his time in office.

Pennsylvania indeed tightened its water disposal rules in 2010, according to published reports. That is about half a decade after the boom began and nearly at the end of Rendell’s tenure. That same year, the state also implemented new well construction standards to prevent leaks and banned further gas development on state forests. However, oil and gas rules were updated a year after Rendell left office and some rules were just approved this year. He also failed to pass a shale gas tax before he left office, according to the State Impact. More recently Rendell came under scrutiny in 2013, after he told New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to embrace fracking in an Op-Ed, while failing to disclose that he had worked as a consultant to a private equity firm with investments in the natural gas industry. (New York went on to ban fracking).

Despite improvements to the state’s regulatory oversights, reports show that violations and detrimental effects on water sources have continued in Pennsylvania, though it’s unclear what Rendell meant when he said the state hadn’t suffered any “significant incidents since” 2010. In May 2011, some three months after Rendell left office, Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection fined Chesapeake Energy more than $1 million for contaminating the water supplies of 16 Bradford families, ProPublica reported. The fine was then the largest the state had ever issued against an oil and gas company.

And between 2008 and the fall of 2012, state regulators identified 161 cases in which drilling operations damaged drinking water wells, according to an Environment America report. That figured is now 280, according to state data.

Since 2005, companies have drilled some 6,650 fracking wells in Pennsylvania. Only Texas and Colorado have more fracking wells.

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Alejandro Davila Fragoso grew up in Peru, Mexico, and California. Before joining Climate Progress he was a newspaper reporter and editor, a fiction writer, a photographer and a documentary filmmaker. He holds a B.A. in political science and international relations from the University of California, San Diego, and is a graduate from the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, where he focused on environmental reporting, narrative writing and visual story telling. In 2013 the California Newspaper Publisher Association awarded him an Honorable Mention for his piece “Slab City, The Last Free Place in America.” He also wrote and produced “El Field,” a documentary film that achieved national theatrical release in Mexico in 2011, and was an official selection at the Morelia International Film Festival in Mexico, MoMA’s Documentary Fortnight, and many other film festivals in Europe and the Americas.
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