Environmental groups pressed Gov. Josh Shapiro to follow through on promises to crack down on the fracking industry at demonstrations in Pittsburgh and Harrisburg on Monday.
Last month, Shapiro announced the Department of Environmental Protection would draw up new regulations on the fracking industry. But he also announced the state was partnering with the gas driller CNX to study pollution at two of the company’s gas wells “to inform the necessity of any additional setbacks or other future policy changes.”
The partnership disappointed activists. They say dozens of peer-reviewed epidemiologic studies have already found links between fracking and health effects. These include two state-funded studies by the University of Pittsburgh that found living near fracking was associated with an increased risk of childhood cancer, asthma, and adverse birth outcomes.
I think that we don’t need to keep doing more studies,” said Laura Dagley, a nurse and medical and environmental health writer with Physicians for Social Responsibility Pennsvylvania who was at the Pittsburgh demonstration, along with several other environmental organizations.
“There are a lot of studies out there, like the ones paid for by the state, showing significant health harms and plus dozens of other ones done in the past, and that should be enough to take action now,” she said.
The groups urged the governor to reconsider his choice to partner with CNX, which has been fined $1.8 million in the past five years for hundreds of environmental violations. In 2021, the company pleaded guilty to environmental crimes filed by then-Attorney General Shapiro for misreporting air emissions at a pipeline maintenance station in Washington County.
“He filed criminal charges against CNX…and now he’s saying that they’re the example of what we can do to control pollution in this state,” said Matt Kelso, manager of data and technology of FracTracker Alliance.
“CNX is…a habitual violator,” said Cat Lodge, a resident of Washington County who came to the Pittsburgh demonstration. “CNX is not actually following those regulations, which would better protect us. And so I’m not sure why he’s partnering up with a company that has a bad record of trying to stay, you know, in compliance with all the regulations.”
In making the announcement last month, Shapiro said the CNX agreement incorporated many of the recommendations from a 2020 grand jury report on fracking from his days as attorney general. Those include increased disclosure of fracking chemicals and bigger setbacks for well pads around schools and hospitals, among other measures.
Under the agreement, CNX will increase its setback from buildings from 500 feet, the current state limit, to 600 feet. It will also increase its setback from schools and hospitals to 2,500 feet “while data is collected.” The grand jury report recommended a setback distance of 2,500 feet from all buildings and structures.
The agreement also addressed another problem spotlighted by the grand jury report — the “revolving door” — whereby state regulators go to work with private companies they formerly oversaw. CNX won’t hire DEP employees for two years after they leave the agency.
Gillian Graber of Protect PT was at the Pittsburgh demonstration, outside the local DEP office. She said the state should expand current setback rules for oil and gas wells from not only homes, schools, and also rivers and streams.
“I would like to have the DEP have new regulations increasing the distance between waterways and pads,” Graber said. “It’d be beneficial to our water, it’d be beneficial to drinking water and it’d be beneficial to our health.”