Photo: Helen Slottje, via arimooreIn a perfect world, everyone would read The New York Times’ frankly terrifying exposé on the EPA’s rather timid oversight of the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania — and public outrage would force the EPA to do its job. That means protecting my state’s water from the ravages of the natural gas industry.
But just in case it doesn’t work out that way, I’ll soldier on. As a Philly resident, I very much have a dog in this fight. As jaded and cynical as I am, I still was utterly gobsmacked by this crack piece of reporting.
Writer Ian Urbina examined official documents that indicates the wastewater from natural gas hydrofracturing (affectionately known as “fracking”) — already understood to be full of salt, benzene, diesel fuel, and other toxic chemicals — is in fact far more dangerous (and radioactive) than the EPA or state environmental agencies are willing to admit. Even worse, this toxic, radioactive wastewater is often sent to local sewage treatment plants that are simply not designed to handle it. The plants in some cases discharge the all but untreated water back into rivers — sometimes just upstream from drinking water intake pipes! As a result, if you live in Pennsylvania, your drinking water may not be safe.
But that’s not all. The EPA has decided the best way to ensure no one panics about radioactive drinking water is by not testing for it:
In fact, federal and state regulators are allowing most sewage treatment plants that accept drilling waste not to test for radioactivity. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008.
I don’t want to spend too much time summarizing an article that everyone should read. But it’s full of familiar refrains from a song we know all too well. America is a place where regulators do industry’s bidding, especially when it comes to energy. Everything else is collateral damage. And in this case, that collateral damage includes Pennsylvanians’ drinking water and, ultimately, their health.
And if Pennsylvania residents still harbor the false hope that their government will protect them, the NYT’s Urbina quickly disabuses them. For, after laying out in great detail the grave threat to the state that the current natural gas drilling frenzy represents, he closes with chilling comments from newly elected Pennsylvania GOP Gov. Tom Corbett:
In arguing against a proposed gas-extraction tax on the industry, Mr. Corbett said regulation of the industry had been too aggressive.
“I will direct the Department of Environmental Protection to serve as a partner with Pennsylvania businesses, communities and local governments,” Mr. Corbett says on his Web site.
Partners, it seems, in environmental crime.