Gas drillers refute attorney general report

Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — With cloudy well water as a prop, Attorney General Josh Shapiro blasted an unholy alliance between natural gas drillers and the state’s Department of Environmental Protection — the agency tasked with regulating the industry.

“The giant fracking companies were given a free pass by unprepared agencies and the public was harmed, plain and simple,” Shapiro said during a press conference last month highlighting a grand jury report.

But more murky than that water, drillers insist, is that grand jury report

“It’s a report he claims is the grand jury’s, but it’s written by his office,” said Dave Spigelmyer, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. “It’s full of inaccuracies, innuendo, and misrepresentations.”

For instance, Shapiro blamed companies for not disclosing the chemicals they’re using in the fracking process. But that information is easily found on the publicly accessible website, fracfocus.org.

The grand jury report also suggests the industry remains unregulated.

“We drilled 677 wells last year and had over 19,000 inspections,” Spigelmyer said. “We’re proud of the fact that we hit a 98 percent compliance rate. But we’re not gonna be happy till we have hundred-percent compliance.”

He added that the attorney general all but ignored the numerous regulations that were added in Act 13 and Act 9 of 2012.

Criticism also arrived from an unexpected place.

“I have a couple of concerns with the report,” said Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware/Montgomery).

Vitali is a fierce environmentalist, chair of the House Environmental Committee, and no friend of the frackers. He says, however, Shapiro took an unjustified slap at DEP and wounded morale at the agency.

“My experience working with [DEP] for almost three decades is they are very committed, competent people,” Vitali said. “But they’ve been systematically under-staffed and under-resourced by the General Assembly.”

The attorney general is also suspicious of connections between drillers and DEP.

“It’s clear the relationship is too cozy,” Shapiro said, pointing to the industry’s habit of hiring regulators away from DEP. The AG calls it a “revolving door” that keeps regulators from regulating. But Spigelmyer argues he has hired DEP personnel to keep his company from breaking the law.

“I did it because of their knowledge of the regulatory framework in oil and gas, to make sure we complied,” Spigelmyer explained.

So he didn’t hire DEP regulators to buy them off or keep them from regulating?

“Absolutely not,” he said.

Governor Tom Wolf was also a target of the grand jury report, which said his DEP was not cooperative.

Wolf said he welcomes any outside review that would improve any agency.

But in its dissent within the grand jury report, DEP was highly critical of the AG’s effort, writing, “DEP was surprised by the extent of the factual inaccuracies and confused articulation.”

Spigelmyer pounced on the division between the Democratic administration and the Democrat attorney general.

“That comes from the DEP and not our industry,” he said.

In response to the criticism, the attorney general’s office released a statement saying it stands by its report and the two-year-long investigation before the grand jury.

A lengthy statement read, in part, ” The frackers powerful lobby can’t refute the health consequences that go along with living next to a drilling site.”

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