A story by the Associated Press raised alarming questions about how well the state has responded to the rush to capitalize on the natural gas reserves in the Marcellus Shale region of Pennsylvania.
The press service analysis found that 3.6 million gallons of fracking water is dumped into our rivers by treatment plants across the state. Locally, one such treatment plant is as close as the power plant in Shamokin Dam, which treats up to 80,000 gallons per day.
The operator at the Shamokin Dam facility says the liquid looks like spring water when it is discharged into the river. As a local resident, he says he would never do anything to harm the precious natural resource that is closely tied to our regional identity.
As clear as the discharge may be, researchers have yet to confirm that the treated fracking water is tolerable rather than toxic to humans or wildlife.
The state also could not document what happened to more than 42 million gallons -- roughly one-fifth the total produced by drilling in the state.
Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection John Hanger defends the state's efforts to police the gas industry. Stiffer regulations took effect in August and all public drinking water is required to meet federal standards. The industry is also moving to reduce the amount of wastewater coming from drilling, an effort that can save the companies money while also reducing the opportunity for waste to mishandled.
Atlas Resources, the biggest driller in Pennsylvania said that it recycles all the water produced in the first month of drilling, when flowback is heaviest. The company is aiming to reduce the amount of wastewater further, a spokesman said.
Environmental regulators have clearly moved to reduce the likelihood that drillers will pollute the land and water and penalized those that have run afoul of the law. With political leaders enamored by the potential for job growth in an economically-depressed region, there remains a worrisome potential that not enough is being done.
We have coal wastelands from generations gone by when another form of resource was being ripped from the land.
Over the last decades, we have seen visionary neighbors work tirelessly to make streams turned orange by acid mine drainage clean again. An engaged citizenry that polices the environmental cops today will be the best way to ensure that profiting from natural gas does not force our children and grandchildren to clean up the mess we leave behind.