Toxins in our Drinking Water?

To The Editor:

Sunday’s New York Times revealed a report from Ian Urbina regarding natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. He exclaimed, due to the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, that we are the “Saudi Arabia of natural gas.”

Unlike most states, Pennsylvania does not require drillers to dispose of their drilling waste/frack water in underground storage wells below impermeable rock layers. Instead, the toxic water (laced with corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and radioactive elements like radium) is discharged through sewage treatment plants into rivers, including the Delaware and Susquehanna.
Some waste-water contained radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times the drinking-water standard!

Urbina reports that “while the existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment and health are greater than previously understood. And most drinking-water intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania, with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before 2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008. The level of radioactivity in the waste- water has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water.”

Gov. Corbett accepted more gas industry contributions than all his competitors combined. He is now reopening state land to new drilling, reversing the moratorium we established last year. This change clears the way for as many as 10,000 wells on public land, up from about 25 active wells today.

In arguing against a proposed gas-extraction tax on the industry (that us Democratic House members proudly voted for several times), Mr. Corbett said regulation of the industry had been too aggressive.

Mr. Urbina described the “regulation” of the industry — “From October 2008 through October 2010, regulators were more than twice as likely to issue a written warning than to levy a fine for environmental and safety violations, according to state data. During this period, 15 companies were fined for drilling-related violations in 2008 and 2009, and the companies paid an average of about $44,000 each year, according to state data. This average was less than half of what some of the companies earned in profits in a day and a tiny fraction of the more than $2 million that some of them paid annually to haul and treat the waste.”

What will our state legislators do in response to this new information? I know what I would do – fight once again for a moratorium on state owned lands and join every other state in our nation that drills by passing a severance tax into law – revenue that can be used to actually police the natural gas industry.

I would also fight to enforce monitoring for any radioactivity in our drinking water.


Tom Houghton
former State Representative
London Grove Twp.

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