Pa. families call on Josh Shapiro to fulfill recommendations of fracking grand jury

Families that live near fracking in Washington County are disappointed in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent partnership with a major gas driller.

town meeting

Families affected by fracking held a meeting in the state capitol on Monday, Nov. 13, 2023 to call on Gov. Josh Shapiro to do more to protect people from the effects of oil and gas drilling. (Rachel McDevitt / StateImpact Pennsylvania)

This story originally appeared on StateImpact Pennsylvania.

Families that live near fracking in Washington County are disappointed in Gov. Josh Shapiro’s recent partnership with a major gas driller, saying it doesn’t do enough to bring accountability to the industry.

Moms and Dads-Family Awareness of Cancer Threat Spike or MAD-FACTS met at the state capitol last week to share stories about illnesses they’ve experienced since fracking boomed in the southwest corner of the state.

Jodi Borello said she lives about 1,400 feet from a pipeline inspection gauge receiving station. She said she and her family can see a mist of emissions when they are released from the station. If they stay outside when the mist drifts into her yard, she said, they develop a painful rash.

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The group wants Shapiro to do more to adopt the recommendations of a 2020 grand jury that found the state failed to protect the public from the health effects of fracking.

Earlier this month, Shapiro announced an agreement with CNX for the company to voluntarily follow most of the report’s recommendations.

Shapiro said the agreement could serve as a model for extracting natural gas “in the most responsible, sustainable way anywhere in the nation.” He added that he was tired of waiting for the General Assembly to pass laws on natural gas standards.

For MAD-FACTS, the agreement makes it look like Shapiro is siding with industry. The group says it can’t trust CNX, and says CNX has committed more than 400 violations since the grand jury report, according to FracTracker Alliance data.

“He did exactly what he said he was trying to protect Pennsylvanians from and I believe he sided with bigger wallets and better connections,” Borello said.

Under the agreement, CNX will keep new infrastructure 600 feet from homes, up from 500 feet.

The grand jury recommended a 2,500-foot setback.

CNX is also promising to be more transparent about what chemicals it uses in the fracking process and to put an end to the “revolving door” between regulators and industry by not hiring Department of Environmental Protection employees for two years after they leave the agency.

Grand jury recommendations

In June 2020, a Pennsylvania grand jury said the state had failed to protect residents from the health effects of fracking, and made the following recommendations:

  • Increase the set-back of all oil and gas wells from 500 to 2,500 feet from any home or business, and more for schools and hospitals
  • Make public the chemicals used in the fracking process
  • Make the transportation of toxic waste safer
  • Regulate smaller pipelines, or gathering pipelines “based on risk, not size”
  • Strengthen air pollution regulations of fracking-related sites
  • Assess public health in relation to fracking
  • Slow the “revolving door” by limiting the ability of legislators and state employees to leave public service and go to work for the industry
  • Allow the AG’s office “original criminal jurisdiction over unconventional oil and gas companies”

Shapiro said the agreement with CNX will allow for intensive, independent study, which he hopes will answer questions about the industry.

Advocates say lawmakers should look to existing studies that have found a link between fracking and diseases including asthma and lymphoma.

“I think our next move is getting an explanation from Governor Shapiro of why he turned his back on the people of Western Pennsylvania and turned his back to the people who gave him their all at the grand jury,” Borello said.

When he unveiled the grand jury report as Attorney General, Shapiro recounted testimony from people who said they got sick from living near fracking operations. At one point, he held up a jar of brown well water that he said came from a contaminated well.

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“Regulators were supposed to prevent abuse by big corporations, and level the playing field,” he said. “But they didn’t.”

Shapiro spokesperson Manuel Bonder said Friday that the agreement with CNX is a positive step forward but not the end of the road on the issue.

Bonder said legislative action is needed to implement many of the grand jury’s recommendations. He also noted that collecting more data on fracking will only add to other studies and that state regulators will be closely involved in the process.

House Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills this session to increase buffer areas between gas infrastructure and buildings, and to require chemical disclosures. Neither has been voted on.

On June 27 this year, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), who chairs the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said during a meeting that House leadership asked him not to run the proposal to increase setbacks. Leadership did not return requests for comment.

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