Laura Legere is a good reporter. Her Sunday, May 19th article is full of important facts.
Legere is also a persistent reporter, with good lawyers backing her up. Legere requested access to Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection drilling investigative determination letters in 2011, but the Corbett Administration denied the Right To Know Request.
The Pennsylvania courts ruled that the Corbett Administration stonewalling was a violation of the public's right to know. Any wonder the public has lost total confidence in the Corbett Administration's regulation of the gas industry?
After reviewing the material won in court, Legere writes that 161 water supplies in Pennsylvania have been impacted by gas drilling from 2008 to 2012 and that 103 water supplies were damaged from 2010 to 2012. The number of cases that involved damaged water supplies--83 cases--is less than the total number of water wells affected. DEP provided documentation of gas drilling impacting water supplies going back to 1987.
The impacts include loss of water, methane contamination, sediment, and frack water spills from the surface. Methane migration is the leading cause of damage, impacting 90 water water wells.
Some cases of damage or water loss were temporary. In other cases, new water wells were drilled or major payments were made by gas drilling companies to impacted property owners.
Over the last 5 years, DEP has confirmed an annual average of about 16 cases of gas drilling impacting 32 water wells in Pennsylvania. Interestingly, DEP found considerably more cases of gas drilling impacting water wells in 2008 and 2009, when many fewer wells were drilled, than in 2011 and 2012.
What explains the decline in confirmed cases of gas drilling impacting water wells, even as the number of gas wells increased? Probably both the Corbett Administration taking office in January 2011 and making clear that it wanted enforcement of gas drilling regulations changed as well as improvement by some companies in their drilling practices.
Water, air, and other challenges demonstrate that more regulatory staff and stronger oversight is needed. Increasing the DEP gas drilling oversight staff by 50% is overdue and so is naming a Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.