Climate

Pennsylvania Congressman Launches Investigation Into His State’s Fracking Rules

CREDIT: AP Photo / Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-PA)

A Pennsylvania congressman just launched an investigation into how his state deals with fracking waste, the Center for Public Integrity reports.

Rep. Matt Cartwright, a first-term Democrat representing Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district, sent a letter to the state’s Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) on Wednesday, requesting “information about the state regulatory process for monitoring the handling and disposal of hydraulic fracturing (fracking) waste.”

Fracking is a process in which a mix of chemicals, water, and other materials is pumped into drilled wells, fracturing the underlying geological formations and allowing natural gas or oil to come to the surface. It’s led to a fossil fuel production boom in North America over the last few years, and made Pennsylvania the third-largest natural gas producer in the country after Texas and Louisiana. Fracking also leaves behind a host of toxic, sometimes even radioactive, pollutants, including fracking chemicals, sludge, fluids, rig wash, and more. A staff report by the House Energy and Commerce Committee identified 29 of the chemicals in fracking waste as known carcinogens, risks to human health and the Safe Drinking Water Act, and hazardous pollutants under the Clean Air Act.

And thanks to an exemption in federal regulations, oversight of that waste and how to dispose of it falls to state governments. So Cartwright and the other Democrats on a the Subcommittee on Economic Growth, Job Creation and Regulatory Affairs — part of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform — are going to take a look at how Pennsylvania law specifically handles that duty.

“The Subcommittee minority is conducting this oversight to determine if state regulations and monitoring of fracking waste are sufficient to ensure accuracy, completeness and compliance with applicable environmental laws,” Cartwright said in the letter.

Cartwright’s letter cites a previous audit of the DEP which found that the agency relies on “a disjointed process” of “reporting and self-reporting by operators” that cannot confirm if waste is disposed of properly, and that its current system of oversight is neither effective nor “pro-active in discouraging improper, even illegal, disposal of waste.”

Back in April, a court case in Pennsylvania admonished the state’s DEP for similar fails when it comes to regulating fracking waste, protecting state drinking water, as well as recording and publicly reporting violations and other problems. Court documents have also shown holes in how the DEP analyzes air pollution from oil and gas fracking operations, and failures to report instances when high levels of pollution were detected.

“We don’t know very much about what happens to these wastes and what impacts they may have,” the Congressman also told InsideClimate News in a letter. “It’s important for Congress to take a look at this issue that does not get the attention it deserves.”

Pennsylvania’s current Governor, Tom Corbett, is a supporter of fracking in the state and is up for re-election in November, and much of the controversy surrounding how state agencies regulate the process has occurred under his watch. Among other instances, Pennsylvania’s Department of Health has been taken to task for telling employees to overlook complaints about ill health effects from fracking when they’re brought by state residents.