Report cites environmental risks of gas-drilling process
February 28, 2011By Susan Phillips
In this Dec. 15, 2010 photo, Cecil Griffith, right, the maintenance supervisor, and Jim Riggio, the plant manager for the Beaver Falls Municipal Authority, are reflected in the water of one of the filtering tanks at the Beaver falls Municipal Authority water treatment plant in Beaver Falls, Pa. Their water began flunking tests for trihalomethanes regularly last year, around the time that a facility 18 miles upstream became Pennsylvania's dominant gas wastewater treatment plant. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)
Newspaper reports say that federal environmental regulators believe the dangers of natural gas drilling are greater than previously thought.
The New York Times reported Sunday that a study by the Environmental Protection Agency shows sewage treatment plants are ill-equipped to handle the waste, and could have dumped radioactive material into waterways.
The article focused on the gas industry in Pennsylvania. It said the state Department of Environmental Protection did not adequately police the industry.
Brady Russell, with Pennsylvania's Clean Water Action, said inspectors cannot keep up with the gas rush, and the DEP does not have enough lawyers to take polluters to court.
"So they have to work with the industry and say, ‘OK, how much can we get away with you paying us without us going to court over this and get you to make some corrections in what you're doing?’ And with that kind of continual negotiation with different industries, of course it becomes business practice to violate the law and pay whatever fines come through," said Russell.
But John Hanger, the former head of the DEP who left in January, said new regulations and an increase in the number of inspectors have strengthened enforcement of the gas industry.
Hanger said his technical staff assured him that no radioactive waste material posed any danger to gas industry workers or drinking water supplies. But he said he was unaware of the study mentioned in the article.
"But beliefs don't matter on issues like this, it's the facts that matter,” said Hanger Monday. “So let's go test and resolve that issue. We have greatly strengthened the regulations on drilling wastewater."
Under his watch, Hanger said the department more than doubled the number of inspectors who cited 1,400 violations of gas industry drillers between January 2008 and June. He recommended an increase in the maximum amount the department can fine industry.
Hanger's term ended when Republican Gov. Tom Corbett took office in January. No one from the DEP returned calls for comment.