Wednesday, April 16, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Tom Corbett has a fracking problem

Corbett needs to crack down on fracking

Tom Corbett has a fracking problem

The second-best surprise of the hours-away-from-ending Ed Rendell administration in Harrisburg (the first best, of course, being his nomination of me for a Pulitizer Prize in the new category of Weather Rants) was the Democratic's environmental record. He didn't seem especially "green" during his tenure as mayor of Philadelphia, but as governor he was a strong advocate for alternative energy. He wasn't perfect, though -- while he was smart to realize the income potential of taxing the hydraulic "fracking" of valuable natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, his administration could have done much more to regulate the dirty "gold rush" upstate.

Here is a major piece of the puzzle he leaves undone:

The natural-gas boom gripping parts of the U.S. has a nasty by-product: wastewater so salty, and so polluted with metals like barium and strontium, that most states require drillers to get rid of the stuff by injecting it down shafts thousands of feet deep.

Not in Pennsylvania, one of the states at the center of the gas rush.

Here, the liquid that gushes from gas wells is only partially treated for substances that could be environmentally harmful, then dumped into rivers and streams from which communities get their drinking water.

In the two years since the frenzy of activity began in the vast underground rock formation known as the Marcellus Shale, Pennsylvania has been the only state allowing waterways to serve as the primary disposal place for the huge amounts of wastewater produced by a drilling technique called hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

More Pennsylvania exceptionalism, apparently. Shame on Rendell for letting this slip through the cracks, because on Jan. 18 the fox -- a.k.a. Tom Corbett, the frackers' best friend -- is going to be guarding Pennsylvania's henhouse, not to mention its drinking water. Corbett not only stacked his transition team with pro-fracking business advocates while mostly shunning environmentalists, but he even resisted a tax deal that the frackers were apparently willing to accept, perhaps to prove his Tea Party bona fides.

Pennsylvania is also the only major state that doesn't impose a severance tax on the gas drillers, even now with its massive budget gap for the new year. Corbett has pledged some new oversight of fracking in the Marcellus Shale, but all signs are it will still be too little, and clearly too late. Fracking is not the most important issue facing the state -- that would be jobs and the economy -- but it's the most important one where leadership in Harrisburg can make the biggest difference right now. Instead, the Leslie Nielsen lookalike is going to be Pennsylvania's "Naked Gun." The public must seize this issue on Jan. 18 before Corbett's little frackers get their way.

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Will Bunch
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