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Better fracking focus

The April 21 Butler Eagle article “Natural gas development thriving in Butler County” focuses on the positives that the fracking boom has brought to Butler County, while downplaying the damages.

The article reports that there have been “just 41 violations reported across all wells (in Butler County), resulting in about $11,000 total in fines. Most wells that have been issued violations have received only one, while no site has received more than three citations from the DEP (Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection).”

One thing many people overlook when assessing these numbers is that violations are assigned to a unit (or a well) and not a pad. A pad can have numerous wellheads.

For example, according to the DEP’s website, there are seven wellheads on the Voll/Soergel pad on Woodlands Road. Three thousand feet to the west sits the Gilliland site with 10 wellheads. Combined, they have four recorded violations, according to the DEP website on oil and gas.

None of the numerous “unintentional returns” and “discharges” into streams during pipeline construction are reported in the DEP system.

One such example was the February 2011 leak into Crab Run next to the Gilliland well. At that time, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission was investigating more than a dozen such spills into Connoquenessing Creek and its tributaries. There is no way of knowing how many have occurred in the county.

Many pads also house compressor stations to push the gas through the pipeline. Last week, it was reported that MarkWest, Rex Energy’s midstream partner in the area, was found by the federal Environmental Protection Agency to be in violation of the Clean Air Act. MarkWest operates many of the compressor stations, including the one on the Voll/Soergel pad, and the cryogenic plant in Connoquenessing. Its plant in Jackson Township is located about a mile from the Seneca Valley School District’s secondary school campus, and the Jackson supervisors have just approved a third plant right next door.

The third plant will be larger than the previous two combined.

If we are going to peddle the exaggerated short-term benefits of toxic fracking, should we not also be studying the devastation and violations? Should we not look at the whole process and not just the narrow view of the industry’s public relations campaigns?

In the middle of the biggest expansion of its responsibilities in recent history, the DEP’s budget has been slashed to historic lows. The recently resigned head of the agency, Michael Krancer, stated that he placed growth of the natural gas industry above oversight.

Additionally, as the deadly explosion in West, Texas, clearly demonstrated, a lack of documented violations does not make a facility safe. Far from it. It often points to a lack of proper oversight.

It has therefore been left to investigative journalists, grassroots organizations with limited resources, and concerned taxpayers to shine a light on the dangers of this industry.

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