Op-Ed: Attorney General’s attack on Natural Gas is a Gross Disconnection from Reality

Over the years, we have become accustomed to baseless attacks on natural gas operators from political opponents who know precious little about the industry or the laws governing it. However, the grand jury report led by Attorney General Josh Shapiro last month glaringly stands out for its obvious political bias and complete disregard for the truth.

The flawed report completely fails to inform the public of the environmental and health protections afforded them by law and erodes the public’s trust. If the underlined passage sounds predictable coming from a Republican elected official representing communities in the Marcellus Shale region, consider the fact that those words actually came from a blistering response from Democrat Governor Wolf’s own Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

The DEP response takes the Attorney General to task for grossly misrepresenting current state law and regulation of the industry. A few other highlights from DEP’s response to the Attorney General’s report:

  • “It presents an inaccurate and incomplete picture of Pennsylvania’s regulatory program and how it is being implemented.”
  • “Does not do the hard and complicated work of examining Pennsylvania’s laws that define governmental authority to regulate industry.”
  • “This false picture of DEP does a disservice to the citizens of the Commonwealth, generally, and to the dedicated employees of DEP, specifically.” The problems do not stop there.

The report claimed that natural gas companies use explosives to fracture shale – even though explosives are never used to fracture a well.It recommended the regulation of gathering lines to transport gas – even though construction of these lines already require multiple permits and are heavily regulated. It demands that shale gas operators disclose all chemicals used in the drilling process – even though natural gas companies are already required to disclose this information to state regulators.

It falsely asserted that DEP did not begin to take regulatory action on shale gas development until 2016 – when in fact the DEP began making substantial updates to its traditional drilling regulations for shale development back in 2008.

In reality, the General Assembly has worked to ensure the responsible development of natural gas with proper safeguards in place to protect the health of Pennsylvanians. The laws regulating the industry in the Commonwealth are held up as a model for other states.

The result of this work is a safe industry that supports more than 322,000 jobs and generates approximately $23 billion in wages annually. We will not sacrifice this progress based on a report filled with errors, half-truths and outright fabrications.

It is unclear whether the report was designed specifically to pander to Shapiro’s political allies, or if the dog just ate the Attorney General’s homework. In either case, Shapiro should be disqualified from suggesting how the natural gas industry should conduct its operations safely until he demonstrates the slightest commitment to understanding the industry and how it is regulated. The DEP should certainly feel no obligation to bow to the impulses of an individual who quite possibly could not tell the difference between a well pad and a swimming pool.

The Attorney General has a solemn responsibility to actually understand the laws he is tasked to uphold, and to be honest with the public – even when the facts might conflict with the doctrines of his political party. To ignore this duty for the sake of political ambition exposes him as just another politician who cares less about the jobs, livelihoods and values of the people he is sworn to protect than the success of his next political campaign.