Davitt Woodwell, President and CEO
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
September 9, 2014
For the last forty-four years, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council (“PEC “) has participated as a central figure in the environmental and conservation discussion in Pennsylvania. And we will continue to.
For the last five years, PEC has participated as a central figure in the debates surrounding unconventional shale gas development in Pennsylvania. And we will continue to.
For the last two-and–a-half years, PEC has participated as a central figure in the Center for Sustainable Shale Development. (“CSSD”). And we will continue to.
PEC is, arguably, the strongest voice in Pennsylvania for strong and actionable regulation of the shale gas industry. Take a look at our record – here and here — which is placed on our website for the world to see. We have pushed for mandatory setbacks, greater planning, public disclosure, groundwater protections, controls on waste and wastewater, public health research, stronger bonding and fines, and greater enforcement. We have not gotten all that we wanted –Pennsylvania doesn’t even have regulations from Act 13 (passed in February of 2012) yet, which is inexcusable. But we won’t stop pushing.
The unconventional development of shale gas is one of the most complicated and critical environmental issues that Pennsylvania has ever faced. A fossil fuel is taken from deep underground using a portable industrial process that brings and leaves impacts wherever it goes. The potential is there for great damage to natural resources of the Commonwealth, along with significant impacts on human health.
After it is extracted, the gas gets moved to markets. However, we still have not yet figured out what to do about the probable 25,000 miles of new pipeline and associated impacts coming to our state over the next number of years. Finally, the gas is burned for a variety of uses and emits other pollutants.
Even with all that, shale gas offers, but does not guarantee, opportunity to temper other impacts that our seemingly insatiable appetite for energy extracts from, and exacts on, Pennsylvania every day. Our state emits a massively disproportionate share of the world’s greenhouse gases, with coal burning as the main component of that belching. Using natural gas appears to emit less CO2e, assuming we get the leakage rate of methane from well pad to burner tip figured out, with leaks being aggressively detected and repaired. That helps the essential fight on climate change.
It would be nice to be able to say that shale gas will be the turning point in our energy future, but it won’t. We still must look – today – toward energy conservation, efficiency, and, most importantly for PEC, changing the generation mix to low-impact sources: small and micro-hydro, solar, wind, geothermal, algae, and others to get us to the energy future we must achieve.
In the meantime, it is imperative to ensure that shale gas development does not proceed as so many extractive industries in Pennsylvania have over the last 200 years: reap now, stick future generations with the negative legacies. Coal did it, oil did it, shallow gas did it, limestone did it, timbering did it, industrial sites did it. Bony piles, abandoned mine drainage, subsidence, brownfields, erosion – all were left for someone down the line. Pennsylvania still deals with most of these every day.
So how do we avoid legacies from shale gas development? For PEC, it means understanding issues from all sides, formulating tangible and effective programs to address them, and working to make those programs reality. It means understanding stakeholders on all sides of the issues. It means being resolute time and again in fighting for stronger standards. It also means not getting everything we want from the legislative and regulatory processes, but also not letting that stop our work toward greater protection.
It is that last piece that brought us to and keeps us involved with the Center for Sustainable Shale Development.
Through CSSD, we are able to work with a group of similarly-minded NGOs pushing for aspirational standards that can guide the shale gas industry to better and better practices. Not “best” practices (which are ever evolving), but leading practices. Practices that go beyond regulation, beyond the comfort level of the industry. These standards do not replace regulations – they help inform and drive them.
And, yes, through this process we work with gas producers. Those willing to say that they will exceed permit requirements: a unique place for them to be when doing so will cost more and potentially put them at odds with others in their field. For PEC, this helps us better understand how the industry works and what practices are truly attainable now; thereby informing our broader positions on unconventional shale development.
Through CSSD’s process, we, along with all of the other participants, have been able to raise the bar on a number of practices with standards that address core issues of air and water quality. Look at the standards and you will see requirements that at least meet and in most cases exceed requirements in Pennsylvania and the other Appalachian States. These standards were not arrived at blithely. Over the past three years, we have been negotiating these standards and have agreed on fifteen so far. More need to come and existing standards need to be revisited. And companies need to be certified to show the efficacy of their undertaking.
For us, CSSD is already a success, we have learned a great deal, promulgated standards, and influenced pubic policy. In fact, CSSD’s “Area of Review” standard for pre-drilling assessments has been lifted almost verbatim by Pennsylvania’s Department of Environmental Protection and included in proposed regulation.
Going forward, we will continue to look at what has and has not worked in our approach to unconventional shale development. We will continue to fight for meaningful, enforceable, and enforced regulation of the industry from well pad to burner tip and seismic testing to well closure. Once again, we anticipate that we won’t get everything we want, but we will have impact and help ensure protections for Pennsylvanians.
At the same time, we will also work to set a path forward for the Commonwealth’s energy and climate future, looking beyond shale and continuing to figure out how to balance our energy-dependent society with environmental and conservation goals. We spend a lot of our time working with people and organizations on all sides of these issues. And we will continue to.