ONE of the many ways in which Pennsylvania lawmakers have coddled the natural gas industry is by exempting it from some aspects of environmental regulation that apply to every other polluting heavy industry.
All industrial processes produce waste that must be disposed. Almost all of the companies involved must test the waste. Results determine whether the material is classified as residual waste, meaning that it can be deposited in most landfills, or hazardous waste, meaning that its safe disposal requires special handling by specialized facilities.
The Solid Waste Management Act, adopted three decades ago and about 15 years before the industry began developing the Marcellus Shale gas field, exempts drilling waste from testing.
Over the past 15 years, the industry has drilled more than 12,000 deep Marcellus Shale wells. Fracking, the process to dislodge the gas from the shale, involves the use of a wide array of proprietary chemicals. And the process also brings to the surface naturally occurring radioactive material.
But because the material automatically is classified as residual waste in Pennsylvania, millions of tons of it end up in landfills that have Department of Environmental Protection permits to accept residual waste, including the Keystone Sanitary Landfill in Dunmore and Throop.
That landfill already tests for some organic compounds. And Gov. Tom Wolf announced in July that the DEP would require testing for radium in fracking waste later this year.
But testing should be comprehensive and required by law.
In August 2020, New York state passed a law requiring testing for all fracking waste, about 640,000 tons of which has been deposited in landfills there.
The state Senate Democratic Policy Committee recently conducted a hearing on eliminating the testing exemption in Pennsylvania law. Bills to that effect have been introduced in both houses but likely will not get out of committees because the legislative majority long has demonstrated that it represents the industry more so than the public.
The industry recycles some waste and says that it is safe, so it should not object to testing waste to prove the point.
Lawmakers should amend the law to make the gas industry fully accountable for its waste, just like every other industry.
Scranton Times Tribune | AP