Well, fracking, well — environmentalists have suffered an embarrassing loss. Rather than extracting blood, water, and a couple of limbs from Texas-based Cabot Oil & Gas over contaminated water supplies in Dimock Township, Pa., the state Department of Environmental Protection and Secretary John Hanger have agreed to settle on an appropriate pound of flesh. For most of this year Hanger has pushed for the construction of a water line from Lake Montrose to Dimock at an estimated cost of $12 million, despite opposition from local officials. The line would have run about 12.5 miles and remedied the problem for a whole 18 families — my Commonwealth Foundation colleagues called it the “Pipeline to Nowhere.” Cabot and others favored other approaches that would have taken care of the issue.
But environmental groups like PennFuture, where Hanger used to ply his trade, tried to make hay over Dimock by falsely linking their water problems to the alleged dangers of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) — a safe process used for decades — to access shale gas. Others such as Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council similarly weighed in with the false claims about fracking in Dimock, in their aggressive campaigns against natural gas exploration. In August PennFuture, in commenting on a proposed rulemaking, wrote to the PA Environmental Quality Board:
PennFuture commends the Environmental Hearing Board (the “Board”) for recognizing the need to update the regulations governing oil and gas drilling to address challenges posed by developments in the gas industry, most particularly the introduction of high-volume hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to Pennsylvania. Failing to amend Chapter 78 to meet those challenges will only lead to more disasters like the ones that occurred at gas wells in Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, in early 2009, and in Clearfield County on June 3, 2010.
That claim had earlier been debunked by Hanger’s own director of oil and gas management, Scott Perry, at a community forum in Luzerne County:
I will tell you that the Marcellus operators have been building their wells to exceed our current regulatory standards; they’re building their wells in a manner that exceeds the [new] standards that we have actually proposed, in many respects….
First of all, it’s [hydraulic fracturing] standard operating procedure in Pennsylvania. And it’s important to point out that we’ve never seen an impact to fresh groundwater directly from fracking.
A lot of folks relate the situation in Dimock to a fracking problem. I just want to make sure everyone’ s clear on this – that it isn’t. What happened in Dimock was that a company was drilling in the Marcellus, and they encountered a shallow gas producing formation … which is common in this area of Pennsylvania. It wasn’t a fracking problem.
Now the media is portraying the settlement as a hit to Cabot — which it is, as they are paying significant dollars to Dimock residents (and to DEP for the cost of investigation). But the fact is that Hanger is being sent back to Harrisburg with his tail between his legs after he’s now abandoned his absurdly excessive idea to address the Dimock water problem. Sure, not everyone is happy with the resolution, but at least residents probably would have seen their money sooner had Hanger not held out for so long. All so environmental extremists could extract their political points.