Prove your humanity

The legislature is teeing up another attempt to loosen environmental standards for conventional oil and gas drillers.

It’s the latest attempt to resolve a 2016 agreement between lawmakers and the Wolf Administration that smaller, conventional drillers should be treated differently than the large, unconventional drillers fracking in the Marcellus Shale.

Under House Bill 1144, companies wouldn’t have to report oil spills under five barrels or brine spills under 15 barrels “unless there is an immediate threat to public health, safety or the environment.” It also revives a controversial provision that would let companies dump drilling fluids on roads.

The new measure is similar to a bill that the legislature passed last session and Gov. Tom Wolf vetoed. He said it posed a risk to public health and safety and that it likely wouldn’t withstand a legal challenge.

The Environmental Defense Fund and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council say the new measure would dramatically reduce health and environmental protections.

“While we recognize that low commodity prices have hampered the conventional industry, that challenge is wholly unrelated to protection standards,” the groups wrote in a letter to lawmakers. “It certainly does not warrant the unraveling of standards that have been in place, and practiced by both the conventional and unconventional industries, for decades.”

Rep. Danielle Friel Otten (D-Chester) opposes the bill. She cited a 2018 study that looked at the environmental and health impacts of spreading wastewater in Pennsylvania.

“Spreading conventional oil and gas wastewater brine on roads released 200 times more of the carcinogen radium than all oil and gas industry spills combined,” Otten said.

Conventional Drilling Waste Responsible for Radioactivity Spike in Rivers, Study Shows

Supporters of the bill say the conventional industry has been operating safely in the state for 160 years and needs to be protected from burdensome regulations meant for the more intensive shale industry. They emphasize conventional wells produce gallons, not barrels, of oil each day.

Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) represents a part of northwestern Pennsylvania where the oil industry started.

“It’s kind of a slap in the face to the good people where I live, to say that — to imply that we do not want clean air and clean water,” she said.

The bill passed the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on a near party-line vote Tuesday and now goes before the full House.


Pa. Republican lawmakers and the U.S. Capitol attack
As part of WITF’s commitment to standing with facts, and because the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was an attempt to overthrow representative democracy in America, we are marking elected officials’ connections to the insurrection. Read more about this commitment.

Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren) is one of the dozens of lawmakers who signed a letter asking Congress to object to Pennsylvania’s legal electoral votes in the 2020 election despite no significant evidence of voter fraud. The election-fraud lie led to the attack on the Capitol.

This story is produced in partnership with StateImpact Pennsylvania, a collaboration among The Allegheny Front, WPSU, WITF and WHYY to cover the commonwealth's energy economy.