An old adage attributed to Will Rogers often echoes in the debate over responsible shale drilling in Pennsylvania.
“You will never get a second chance to make a first impression.”
The gas companies have been dealing with this for several years, it seems, tainted by the early rush to drill the Marcellus that sometimes took a more aggressive approach to securing land and water for drilling than to protecting them.
Some of their early wells didn’t have the protections mandated today, leading to leaks that fouled drinking water and continue to haunt all involved. A Penn State study this month claimed to link trace amounts of chemicals found in water at three Bradford County homes to shale wells drilled in 2009.
The lead author had worked on a lawsuit the homeowners filed against the gas company. The chemicals are used in other products and very well could have come from another source. An analyst with the Environmental Defense Fund noted in a New York Times report on the study that drillers have improved their wells and added more protections since 2009.
But the headlines in 2015 still read: “Drilling linked to chemicals in water.”
Drillers cannot shake their mistakes of the past, nor should they, according to some who attended a forum last week on shale waste at Chatham University.
About 50 people who went to the League of Women Voters’ event into the Eddy Theatre had a chance to get many impressions of how waste is handled. The panel of speakers included Nadia Steinzor from the anti-drilling group Earthworks, state Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Scott Perry, Seneca Resources spokesman Rob Boulware, Carl Spodaro from waste treatment firm Max Environmental, and Barbara Lucia, a citizen activist who fought plans to put a treatment plant in her Warren neighborhood.
The crowd also heard a stark admission from an agency dealing with its own missteps from administrations past.
“The oil and gas program we had in 2008 was not up to the task,” said Perry, who leads that office at the DEP. The department had neither the staff nor rules in place to adequately protect land and water when shale drilling started to take off.
After tripling its staff of inspectors and strengthening well integrity rules that experts say might have prevented leaks like those in Bradford County, the department started a process to enact wide ranging regulations that continues as we speak.
Environmentalists said the first version of those regulations fell short in some areas, such as dealing with open pits of waste at wells. A new draft eliminates those and takes other steps.
Those who missed a chance to give DEP their impression of those rules have a second chance: the public comment period on the proposed changes ends Tuesday.