Conrad Dan Volz, DrPH, MPH was asked by Senator Cardin to testify today before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and its Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, Joint Hearing on “Natural Gas Drilling, Public Health and Environmental Impacts.”
My testimony today will cover three critical public health and environmental policy areas related to unconventional natural gas production:
First is the unregulated siting of natural gas wells in areas of high population density,and near schools and critical infrastructure. Unconventional gas extraction wells arehighly industrialized operations that have public health preparedness risks of catastrophicblowout, explosion and fire. Any of these incidents can create an Immediately Dangerousto Life and Health (IDLH) condition for adults or children in close physical proximity.The unregulated siting of unconventional natural gas extraction wells and productionfacilities in residential neighborhoods and near critical infrastructure is unwisepreparedness policy, especially in light of federal and state efforts to reduce risk fromterror attacks on USA citizens and critical infrastructure.
Secondly, the higher rates and differential patterns of oil and gas act violations fromMarcellus Shale gas extraction operations, as compared to conventional oil and gas wells,suggests a much greater impact to drinking water and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shalegas extraction wells have between 1.5 to 4 times more violations than their conventionalwell counterparts per offending well, including more serious violations and violationsthat have a direct impact on water quality and aquatic resources. Marcellus Shale gasextraction wells are more likely to have violations for:
- Failures to minimize accelerated erosion, implement erosion and sedimentation plans, and/or maintain erosion and sedimentation controls.
- Discharge of pollution to waters of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.
- General violations of the Clean Streams Law.
- Failure to properly store, transport, process or dispose of a residual waste and -Failures to adequately construct or maintain impoundments holding gas extractionflowback fluids containing toxic contaminants.
The third problem public health and environmental policy area to be addressed is thedisposal of gas extraction flowback fluids, carrying a plethora of toxic elements andchemicals, in inefficient “brine” treatment facilities and Publicly Owned TreatmentWorks (POTW’s) [commonly called sewage treatment plants], which dischargeeffluent into surface water sources. Studies of the effluent from a commercial facilityin Pennsylvania that treats fluids only from gas and oil operations shows discharge of 9pollutants in excess of nationally recognized human and/or aquatic health standards into anearby stream.