Recent reports in the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere suggest the Obama administration may have interfered with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s high-profile water contamination investigations related to shale gas drilling in Pavillion Wyo., Parker County, Texas, and Dimock Pa., essentially instructing the EPA to “pull the plug” on the investigations.
In each case the EPA initially found the gas and oil industry culpable for residential groundwater contamination. Then, in 2012, an election year, the EPA abruptly removed itself from involvement in all three investigations.
In the case of Dimock, it went so far as to reverse its initial verdict that water at several residences there was unsafe for human consumption, even though the water test results had not changed. Internal EPA memos recently uncovered by the L.A. Times state that the water is still unsafe to drink and that shale-gas drilling is the cause.
The implications of these interference allegations are obvious. Clearly, the Obama administration considers shale gas drilling “too big to fail,” and so it limits how far the EPA can go in investigating worst-case scenarios.
It is also clear that, at least covertly, the administration sanctions those worst-case scenarios: the creation by the gas industry of the infamous “sacrifice zones” proclaimed by Terry Engelder, Penn State professor of geosciences and godfather of Marcellus Shale drilling (One can bet one’s royalty check that Engelder does not live in one of these sacrifice zones).
The upshot of this for Butler County is that residents can expect no protection against their property becoming a sacrifice zone. The best one can hope for is that the drilling company will buy one’s now-worthless property at a negotiated price, and one will be saddled with a lifetime gag order, preventing one from telling other landowners of the hell one has experienced at the hands of the drillers. This is what happened to the Hallowich family in Washington County and several families in Dimock.
But if someone happens to live next door to a drilling site, compressor station or gas processing plant, the above option may not be available. One may just have to live with the industrial noise and toxic stench until the airborne and water-borne carcinogens have completed their work.
These sorts of things have happened and will continue to happen, and regulatory agencies are being instructed to turn a blind eye in many cases.
It’s a game of Russian roulette — it may not happen, but then again it might. All county residents who lease their land for drilling and associated infrastructure would do well to prepare themselves for the possibility of their property becoming a sacrifice zone.