MEDIA – Following a blowout at a Pennsylvania natural gas well, Democratic U.S. Senate nominee Congressman Joe Sestak called on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today to increase its oversight of Marcellus Shale development.
The blowout at the natural gas well in Clearfield County last week, apparently caused by a failed blowout preventer, spewed polluted drilling water and natural gas 75 feet in the air and on the ground before being capped 16 hours later. The drilling liquid from the well’s hydraulic fracturing activities, whereby the liquids are shot underground at high pressure to break up shale and release its natural gas, flowed off the site and toward tributaries to Little Laurel Run.
While the situation was eventually contained, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger said the accident could have resulted in a “catastrophic incident that endangered life and property.”
The circumstances of the accident are similar to those that led to the BP oil rig explosion in April at the Deepwater Horizon Rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Joe wrote a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to ask that the Marcellus Shale development be monitored by the EPA to ensure that drilling does not harm Pennsylvania’s water resources.
“This accident highlights the significant dangers of these drilling operations, which are expanding in Pennsylvania at an unprecedented rate and scale,” wrote Sestak, noting that American Rivers has declared the Upper Delaware River the most endangered in the country due to Marcellus Shale development. “Proper regulations are not in place to manage them and protect the public.”
Sestak asked Jackson to increase EPA’s authority “to the maximum extent possible” to oversee the development of the Marcellus Shale as he and Sen. Bob Casey work on efforts to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources. For example, Pennsylvania must have proper investigation and testing of groundwater and air contamination and the EPA has the technical expertise to help put the safest possible procedures in place.
Sestak has co-sponsored the FRAC Act, a companion to a Casey-sponsored Senate bill, that would repeal the “Halliburton Loophole,” a Bush-era special-interest deal that allows drillers to skirt the Safe Drinking Water Act.
“It is critical that the EPA play a role in assessing and minimizing industrial risk so that our citizens do not sacrifice their health, safety, livelihoods, and environment to irresponsible development of our nation’s vast natural wealth,” Sestak said. “Development of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale can be a boon for ailing local economies, but we must be vigilant in taking all necessary steps to protect our commonwealth’s precious natural resources.”
Here is the full text of the letter:
The Honorable Lisa Jackson
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Dear Administrator Jackson,
Last week, Pennsylvania experienced a serious accident in a natural gas drilling operation in the Marcellus Shale. A ruptured mine spewed explosive gas and contaminated wastewater into the environment for 16 hours before being brought under control. The accident appears to have been caused by a failed blowout preventer — an alarming similarity to the tragedy of the Deepwater Horizon rig. According to Secretary John Hanger of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, this accident could have been even worse, and could have resulted in a “catastrophic incident that endangered life and property.”
This accident highlights the significant dangers of these drilling operations, which are expanding in Pennsylvania at an unprecedented rate and scale. Proper regulations are not in place to manage them and protect the public. American Rivers has declared the Upper Delaware River the most endangered in the country due to natural gas extraction activities in the Marcellus Shale, and the state DEP has recently had its budget cut by more than 25 percent.
In April, my colleague Senator Bob Casey wrote to you requesting greater EPA involvement in Pennsylvania to protect its citizens from the detrimental effects of hydraulic fracturing. This accident underscores the need, and urgency, for the EPA to take action.
Recent events, from the tragic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico to the fraudulent activity that contributed to the collapse on Wall Street, have reminded us all that we cannot depend on industry to police itself when our quality of life, present and future, is at stake. It is critical that the EPA play a role in assessing and minimizing industrial risk so that our citizens do not sacrifice their health, safety, livelihoods, and environment to irresponsible development of our nation’s vast natural wealth.
I will continue to work with Senator Casey to provide even greater authority to the EPA in oversight of hydraulic fracturing operations through passage of the FRAC Act. As that legislation moves through the legislative process, I request that the EPA use its current authority to the maximum extent possible to protect the health, safety, and environment of Pennsylvania and our neighboring states.
Member of Congress