Environmental Quality Board Testimony on Oil & Gas
Regulations: J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD
January 23, 2014
IndianaUniversity of Pennsylvania
Good evening. I am Dr. J. Stephen Cleghorn of Reynoldsville, PA. I own an organic farm up in Jefferson County. I have placed a unique conservation easement on my farm that asserts and defends the Rights of Nature – on the surface and below the surface – from violation by an extreme industrial practice such as fracking for shale gas.
We are here tonight to consider proposed regulations of shale gas extraction to better control activities that occur at the surface, but there is a fundamental flaw with that.
The problem is this: The Earth is One. It is above us in our climate, under our feet and around us as an ecosystem sustaining our lives, and below us as the deep, living biosphere. To limit these hearings on regulations to what happens on the surface of the Earth for an activity whose essential nature requires penetration far below the surface of the Earth truncates all too much the discussion we should be having.
So before addressing the proposed regulations, I’d like to speak about what happens from below that will affect surface living for generations to come.
GIVEN that oil and gas industry data show that well casings (both steel and concrete) can fail at a rate up to a 50% over just 30 years time;
- AND given that these casings must hold up IN PERPETUITY to protect the groundwater aquifers under Pennsylvania;
- AND that the gas industry plans to drill more than 100,000 wells for the next 50 years that will put at risk groundwater aquifers under half the land mass of PA;
THEREFORE, DEP should require that casings of the type and engineering that are failing now be immediately PROHIBITED, and cause the following to happen:
- All casings henceforth shall employ fail-safe engineering that will prevent the degrading and failure over time so that they can contain completely, in perpetuity, all gas, fluids and shale elements from below;
- Chemical markers and physical monitors shall be placed in every well that will provide evidence of such leakage over time and who is responsible for that leakage;
- All gas companies shall provide a bond adequate to pay in full for whatever is needed to achieve remediation of groundwater supplies, or replacement of water supplies, when the wells leak methane or chemicals into the aquifers.
To do anything less than this is to risk irreparable harm to the water sources of the Commonwealth and to the human, animal and plant life that depend on that water.
Water is Life, and this industry poses an existential threat to us because it will inevitably ruin, as it is practiced now, the water sources by which we live at the surface.
But of course, that said, I do support the recommendations you have heard from many others about what happens at the surface:.
- You need more than two additional hearings. These hearings should take place in every county where drilling is occurring
- Yes, no more open frac waste pits.
- No more burying of frac waste pits onsite.
- Identify all pre-existing wells before site and well construction so that the location of any new well can be changed if needed, and map these on a publicly available web platform.
- Operators must restore contaminated drinking water to a quality that meets Safe Drinking Water Act standards, no matter what the quality of the water prior to drilling.
Now, please, take off your bureaucratic hats for a moment and understand that the Earth is One and that these regulations for the surface-only activities of deep drilling deny that essential fact. This notion that we can define ourselves as touching Nature only in part and not affecting Nature and our environment in the whole is wrongheaded. It is at the very core of why we are cooking the planet and despoiling its oceans and its surfaces and its deep biosphere to the point that we will deny life itself to future generations of our own family. We must disavow that destructive tendency of ours, my friends, before it is too late.
Surely you sit where you do today because you pursued in your education and your career as environmentalists a dream of keeping our living ecosystems safe from irreparable harm at the hands of us human beings. Dream that way again before you decide on any new regulations that allow fracking to proceed. At least dream that much again, as you did when you were young.
Thank you for listening.
J. Stephen Cleghorn, PhD