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Josh Shapiro announces ‘first of its kind’ agreement with CNX on fracking health measures, says new regulations coming

  • Reid Frazier
Shapiro Administration and Leading Natural Gas Company CNX Resources Announce First-of-its-Kind Collaboration on Environmental Monitoring and Chemical Disclosures

Commonwealth Media Services

Shapiro Administration and Leading Natural Gas Company CNX Resources Announce First-of-its-Kind Collaboration on Environmental Monitoring and Chemical Disclosures

Gov. Josh Shapiro went to Washington County to announce a voluntary agreement the state was signing with CNX, the Canonsburg-based natural gas driller. He also signaled he’d push his Department of Environmental Protection to write tougher regulations for the fracking industry.

Standing at a CNX well pad with company CEO Nick DeIuliis, Shapiro said the agreement incorporates many of the recommendations from a 2020 grand jury report on fracking from when he was the Pennsylvania Attorney General. Those include increased disclosure of fracking chemicals and bigger setbacks for well pads around schools and hospitals, among other measures.

“We’re putting forth a model of how natural gas in Pennsylvania can be extracted and processed in the most responsible, sustainable way anywhere in the nation,” Shapiro said. “Many Pennsylvanians had real questions about the public health and safety risks that fracking presents. The public deserves answers, and the public deserves accountability.”

Shapiro also said new laws are needed to regulate the natural gas industry, but the legislature has so far failed to act.

“It’s been three and a half years and nothing has changed in the General Assembly. Heck, they haven’t even taken a vote,” Shapiro said. “I’m tired of waiting, and I know that Pennsylvanians are tired of waiting as well.”

The governor said in a statement he had instructed DEP to update regulations on several facets of the industry, including those involving chemical disclosure, methane emissions, drilling waste, inspection of secondary containment, and natural gas gathering lines.

What CNX will do

Shapiro said the “first of its kind” agreement with CNX includes many of the measures recommended by the grand jury report. It will also include voluntary air monitoring and data sharing at two CNX drilling sites.

“They agreed to give deep, unprecedented access to two of their future wells so we can conduct the most intensive, independent study of unconventional natural gas wells in the country. This is really historic,” Shapiro said.

Under the agreement, CNX will increase its setback from buildings from 500 feet, the current state limit, to 600 feet. It will also increase its setback from schools and hospitals to 2,500 feet “while data is collected.” The grand jury report recommended a setback distance of 2,500 feet from all buildings and structures.

The agreement also addresses another problem spotlighted by the grand jury report — the “revolving door” — whereby state regulators go to work with private companies they formerly oversaw. CNX says it won’t hire DEP employees for two years after they leave the agency.

DeIuliis said his company was bringing “radical transparency” to the fracking process by entering into the agreement.

“We want to encourage and lobby our peers in the industry to join us and to help us improve what we’re about to embark upon,” DeIuliis said. “And we’re asking regulators and policymakers to now follow the data of the known because we don’t have to follow the speculation, innuendo, that derive from not knowing or the unknown when we set policy and standards.”

DeIuliis said he wanted to use the agreement “to definitively confirm for all stakeholders that there are no adverse human health issues related to responsible natural gas development.”

Shapiro also said he hopes the agreement will answer questions about the industry.

“We need to bring transparency to this process, collect more data so we can ensure that we have the necessary and appropriate protections in place,” he said.

Studies show health risks

But environmental groups said we already know enough about fracking to take action.

Public health studies — including two state-funded Pitt studies recently released — show that living near fracking is associated with an increased risk of cancerasthma, and adverse birth outcomes.

They questioned the value of studying emissions at two hand-picked wells in a state where 14,000 unconventional shale gas wells have been drilled in the past 20 years.

“We have dozens of peer-reviewed epidemiologic studies that have taken place over the last decade that point to a range of health harms in proximity to shale gas infrastructure,” said Alison Steele, executive director of the Environmental Health Project. “We are not in the position to wait for more information before taking action.”

CNX’s track record of violations

Megan McDonough of Food & Water Watch, which has advocated for a ban on fracking, questioned Shapiro’s decision to partner with CNX. The company has been fined $1.8 million in the past five years for hundreds of violations, according to DEP data. She also said the voluntary nature of the agreement made it weak.

“A better use of time for the Shapiro administration would have been to meet with families on the ground that have been impacted,” McDonough said.

PennEnvironment director David Masur said the Shapiro administration’s shale gas regulations were important “first steps for reining in fracking pollution.” But he said “we must end fracking if we’re going to protect public health and our planet” in favor of renewable energy.

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