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Pennsylvania: yet another report on dangerous environmental and health impacts in the frack patch

Amy Mall

Posted August 15, 2014

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Exactly three years ago, I blogged about Pam Judy in Murrysville, Pennsylvania. Pam's family experienced severe health symptoms after a compressor station was built on her neighbor's property, including nose bleeds, vertigo, mouth blisters, extreme headaches, fatigues, vomiting, and emergency room visits. Air sampling at the time detected toxic chemical compounds, including benzene, styrene, toluene, xylene, acetone, and more.

Fast forward to 2014 and Earthworks has just published a new report on inadequate enforcement of the oil and gas industry in Pennsylvania. Among other things, the report concludes:

  • information gaps in PA data make it impossible to assess the extent of pollution to which anyone is exposed;
  • there is no consideration of cumulative impacts on health;
  • there is inadequate and inconsistent air and water testing;
  • "special protection watersheds" don't get any special protection;
  • oil and gas companies get special exemptions from toxic waste management rules on a regular basis;
  • well files have a lot of missing information,
  • only a small percentage of wells are inspected each year, and inspection information is often missing from well files;
  • complaints are often ignored.

There are a lot of details in the report, and I urge you to read it. Communities in Pennsylvania continue to suffer from the harms of oil and gas development in residential areas, and yet regulators continue to allow the industry to expand without adequate protections and enforcement in place.

The report also has an update on Pam Judy and her farm. In addition to the nearby compressor station, there are now "more than 35 drilled and producing wells within one mile."  Earthworks determined that two of these gas wells were the top two emitters of coarse particulate matter in Pennsylvania in 2011. Other wells near Pam's home are also emitting high levels of dangerous air pollutants. Pam reports that the compressor station is one of the top five industrial emitters of NOx and benzene in the county.

As Pam says, "our communities and quality of life has, and will continue to be, destroyed." Not much I can add to that.

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Michael BerndtsonAug 17 2014 10:03 AM

Not knowing or feigning ignorance about a potential environmental impact, due to hydraulic fracking of oil and gas in shale, is inexcusable at this point in time. Lets put fracking impact ignorance as an OK excuse before 2005. Knowing about potential environmental impacts and purposely deploying a hydrocarbon grab kind of falls under something. Something not good. I cut ignorance off as an excuse around 1970 for air and water pollution. Ignorance of land and groundwater pollution may be excusable before 1980, maybe as late as 1986. Ignorance of climate change acceleration by greenhouse gases emissions can only be pled before 1991. Those are dates of various environmental protection acts addressing respective impacts. Pennsylvania, like Illinois are git r' done kind of states with a mix of democrats and republicans. Both states are and may soon be on the road to negligence, when it comes to protecting resident's health and the environment. Other states like Texas just don't seem to care all that much. Arkansas doesn't seem to care at all. West Virginia is a world onto its own. Obama's stuck promoting that gas bridge by himself, after his best and brightest experts skulked away. Extraordinary environmental agents can simply move onto the next issue to be pulled into as experts.

Westchester GasetteAug 21 2014 12:52 AM

For Michael Berndtson: Just want to be sure to note that in all those states you have mentioned there are many of us working very hard to change the trajectory for what some have always believed to be "inevitable." Change is happening, slowly, but surely.

As a North Texan, it's important for everyone to understand that our struggles and successes may not be heralded in the news, but there are many communities that have pulled together over the last 5 years. Uphill battles can be difficult but do succeed with the right leadership. Texans do care. It's just that the leaders currently running the place have lost their way.

Michael BerndtsonAug 21 2014 11:14 AM


I was referring to "states" as "States." The agents of the residents of our democracy. I've said a novena and gone to daily mass (plus bought a lucky rabbits foot) with the hope Illinois's soon to be released fracking regs are as protective as presumably intended, by the State.

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