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Report on Fracking in Pennsylvania Lists 1,400+ Violations

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Since 2008, Marcellus shale gas drillers in Pennsylvania have racked up more than 1,400 violations, according to a report released yesterday. The report, compiled by the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, is based on state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) enforcement records obtained through a Right to Know Request filed by the association.

The report identified 1,435 violations by 43 Marcellus Shale drilling companies since January 2008. Of those, 952 were identified as having or likely to have an impact on the environment. Those included 100 violations of the state Clean Stream Law, 268 for improper construction of waste water impoundments; 277 for poor erosion and sedimentation plans during well pad, road and piping construction; 16 for improper blowout prevention; and 154 for discharging industrial waste, including drilling waste water containing toxic chemicals, onto the ground or into streams.

The violations listed in the report do not include violations incurred by drilling wastewater haulers. According to the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, during a 3-day enforcement blitz by the DEP in June 2010, 669 traffic citations and 818 written warnings were issued to trucks hauling Marcellus Shale drilling wastewater.

Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York yesterday were trying to put the breaks on fracking in that state. While a virtual moratorium on gas drilling has been in existence in that state since 2008, it’s expected to be lifted this year, and new drilling will commence without legislative action.

New York’s Marcellus shale region encompasses the entire Catskills watershed that provides New York City with all of its drinking water. Activists there fear drilling in the area will endanger the watershed.

Yesterday, during a rare summer session, the state’s Senate voted by an overwhelming margin – 48 to 9- to approve the Thompson/Sweeney bill (S.8129B), which would place a moratorium on granting new drilling permits until May 2011. The measure has long had bipartisan support, but the leadership of both the Senate and Assembly stalled in bringing the legislation to a vote. Up until a few days ago, it was considered all but dead.

The bill goes next to the state Assembly, where it also has bipartisan support. However, it is unclear if the Assembly will vote on it during this special session.

Drilling in the Marcellus shale, a rock formation rich in natural gas that lies beneath parts of West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio and Maryland, uses a process called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Fracking involves injecting water, sand, and a cocktail of chemicals at high pressure into rock formations thousands of feet below the surface. This opens existing fractures in the rock and allows gas to rise through the wells.

Critics of fracking have long been concerned about the chemicals used in the process. Because the federal Energy Policy Act of 2005 exempted hydraulic fracturing from regulation under the Safe Drinking Water Act, shale gas drillers don’t have to disclose what chemicals they use. According to the Environmental Working Group, fracking has already been linked to drinking water contamination and property damage in Colorado, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wyoming.

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