Monday, April 22, 2024
HomenortheastPA officials to collaborate with major gas company for environmental monitoring

PA officials to collaborate with major gas company for environmental monitoring

The state of Pennsylvania will work with a major natural gas producer to collect in-depth data on air emissions and water quality at well sites, enhance public disclosure of drilling chemicals and expand buffer zones, officials announced Thursday, touting the collaboration as the first of its kind.

CNX Resources Corp., based in Canonsburg, will partner with the state Department of Environmental Protection on environmental monitoring at two future well sites throughout all stages of the drilling and fracking process — an intensive data-collection exercise that could be used to drive future policy changes.

CNX will also report air quality data on a new website, beginning with one of its existing wells in Washington County, in the state’s southwest corner, and eventually expanding to its entire Pennsylvania operation. The company has drilled more than 500 wells in the vast Marcellus Shale natural gas field.

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Drilling rig extracts natural gas

This photo shows a drilling rig used to extract natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, located on a hill above a pond on John Dunn’s farm in the Washington County borough of Houston, Pennsylvania. (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic, File)

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The announcement comes amid ongoing concerns about the potential environmental and health effects of fracking, and more than three years after a grand jury concluded that state regulators had failed to properly oversee the state’s huge gas-drilling industry.

Gov. Josh Shapiro was set to appear with Nick Deiuliis, CNX’s president and CEO, at a news conference in Washington County later Thursday. State officials say they expect the program to “definitively measure” emissions at well sites.

Deiuliis told The Associated Press he expects the data to show that natural gas extraction is safe when done right.

At the same time, Deiuliis said in a phone interview, “I’m expecting to learn things through this radical transparency and the data that are going to come from it, and I expect many of those learnings are going to result in tweaks and refinements and improvements to the way we go about manufacturing natural gas responsibly.”

Shapiro, a Democrat in his first term as governor, was the state’s attorney general in 2020 when a grand jury concluded after a two-year investigation that state regulators had failed to prevent Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling industry from sickening people and poisoning air and water. The panel issued eight recommendations, including the expansion of buffer zones, the public disclosure of drilling chemicals, and more accurate measurements of air quality.

None of the recommendations has been enacted legislatively.

Shapiro’s administration spent months in talks with CNX on the data-collection program unveiled Thursday, and hopes to persuade other gas drillers to follow.

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Under its agreement with the state, CNX will also disclose the chemicals to be used at a well site before the start of drilling and fracking. It will also expand setbacks from the state-required 500 feet to 600 feet at all drilling sites, and increase them to 2500 feet for schools, hospitals and other sensitive sites during the data-collection period.

Pennsylvania is the nation’s No. 2 gas-producing state after Texas.

Energy companies like CNX combine horizontal drilling with hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a technique that injects vast amounts of water, along with sand and chemicals, underground to break up the gas-bearing shale. The drilling methods spurred a U.S. production boom in shale gas and oil, while raising concerns about air and water quality as well as potential health effects.

Children who lived closer to natural gas wells in heavily drilled western Pennsylvania were more likely to develop a relatively rare form of cancer, and nearby residents of all ages had an increased chance of severe asthma reactions, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh said in a pair of reports released in August. The researchers were unable to say whether the drilling caused the health problems.

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