State governments are not warning the public about potential dangers from fracking, according to a new lawsuit.
Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) is covering up cases of water contamination caused by natural gas fracking, a new lawsuit alleges. Instead of issuing fines or violation notices, DEP is reaching private settlements with well owners to avoid warning nearby residents about potential contamination, the lawsuit claims.
“For us, this is all about transparency and the ability to protect water supplies,” John Smith, one of the attorneys who filed the suit, told the The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “The DEP must provide citizens with information about the potential harm coming their way. If it doesn’t record and make available the violations records then it is denying the public accurate information, which is unconscionable.”
Law Protects Fracking Companies
Smith and his colleagues want to overturn a 2012 state law that makes it easy for DEP not to tell the public about contamination. Water contamination from fracking is a growing problem in Pennsylvania, where drillers are using the technique to access vast supplies of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale.
The law requires DEP to notify public water systems about contamination but not property owners that rely on wells for water. The attorneys claim this violates Pennsylvania’s Constitution.
The suit was filed after a property owner in Amwell, Pennsylvania, was unable to discover if fracking had contaminated a neighbor’s well. DEP refused to divulge the information because of a private settlement. Smith contends this arrangement constitutes a “special law” written to protect oil and gas producers.
A spokeswoman for DEP acknowledged in an email to the Post-Gazette that the agency withholds information from the public.
“While the complaint is under investigation, the information is kept confidential and DEP does not disclose the information according to the Right to Know Law,” the email stated. “When a determination is made, DEP receives a copy of the determination letter. Those letters are public record.”
But those letters cannot be accessed through DEP’s website, The Post-Gazette noted.
Air Pollution Danger From Fracking?
Natural gas fracking could be creating dangerous air pollution that could even cause cancer, a researcher at the University at Texas at Austin (UT) is alleging. To make matters worse, state and federal regulators are not dealing with the issue.
“Neither the state nor the federal government has set enforceable ambient standards for hazardous air pollutants,” Rachel Rawlins of UT’s Community and Regional Planning program wrote in the Virginia Environmental Law Journal article.
The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) ignored the release of ozone from fracking wells, Rawlins alleged.
“Increasing chemical emissions related to ozone formation may present a significant health risk, particularly to children who are most vulnerable due to the state of their lung development and their tendency to be active outdoors when ozone levels are high,” Rawlins wrote. “Even at very low levels, ozone can cause serious health problems by damaging lung tissue and sensitizing lungs to other irritants.”
Some of Rawlins findings about ozone from fracking wells include:
- Exposure to ozone can permanently scar the lungs.
- Children who live in the Barnett Shale, a region of Texas with a high level of fracking, are three times as likely to develop childhood asthma as are kids elsewhere in the state.
- Childhood asthma levels in Tarrant County, Texas (Fort Worth), are more than double the national average. Tarrant County has a lot of fracking.
- Ozone from fracking wells can make other pollution, such as that from diesel trucks, worse.
Rawlins wants local governments to be given the power to regulate natural gas fracking in order to control air pollution.