Planet Earth

published : 2023-11-04

Pennsylvania Officials Collaborate with Major Gas Company for Environmental Monitoring

Pennsylvania ranks as the country's second-highest gas producer following Texas

An aerial view of a well site in Pennsylvania, showcasing the collaboration between CNX Resources Corp. and state officials. (Photo taken with a DJI Mavic 2 Pro)

The state of Pennsylvania has announced a groundbreaking collaboration with a major natural gas producer to collect comprehensive data on air emissions and water quality at well sites, improve the disclosure of drilling chemicals, and expand buffer zones.

CNX Resources Corp., based in Canonsburg, will partner with the state Department of Environmental Protection to conduct environmental monitoring at two future well sites, encompassing all stages of the drilling and fracking process. This ambitious data-collection exercise aims to drive future policy changes.

In a significant move, CNX will begin reporting air quality data on a new website, starting with one of its existing wells in Washington County, Pennsylvania. The company plans to eventually expand this initiative to cover its entire operation in the state, where it has drilled over 500 wells in the vast Marcellus Shale natural gas field.

The collaboration comes at a time when concerns persist regarding the potential environmental and health impacts of fracking. It follows a grand jury's conclusion, over three years ago, that state regulators had failed to adequately oversee Pennsylvania's extensive gas-drilling industry.

Governor Josh Shapiro, accompanied by Nick Deiuliis, the President and CEO of CNX, made the announcement in Washington County. State officials are optimistic that this program will serve as a definitive way to measure emissions at well sites.

Governor Josh Shapiro and Nick Deiuliis discussing the importance of environmental monitoring and responsible natural gas manufacturing at the news conference in Washington County. (Photo taken with a Sony A7 III)

Deiuliis expressed his confidence that the data collected will demonstrate the safety of natural gas extraction when done correctly. He also emphasized the importance of radical transparency and the subsequent learnings that will lead to improvements in responsible natural gas manufacturing.

Having previously served as the state's attorney general during the grand jury investigation in 2020, Governor Shapiro recognizes the significance of this collaboration. He hopes to enact the panel's eight recommendations, including expanding buffer zones, disclosing drilling chemicals to the public, and accurately measuring air quality.

Under the agreement between CNX and the state, the company will disclose the chemicals it plans to use at a well site before commencing drilling and fracking. Moreover, CNX will expand buffer zones from the state-mandated 500 feet to 600 feet at all drilling sites, and increase them to 2500 feet around schools, hospitals, and other sensitive locations during the data-collection period.

Pennsylvania currently holds the distinction of being the second-highest gas-producing state in the country, after Texas.

Energy companies like CNX achieve this production through a combination of horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (fracking). This technique involves injecting large amounts of water, sand, and chemicals underground to fracture the gas-bearing shale. While it has led to a boom in shale gas and oil production in the United States, concerns have been raised about its impact on air and water quality, as well as potential health effects.

Students participating in an educational program on air and water quality near a natural gas well site. (Photo taken with a Nikon D850)

In August, researchers at the University of Pittsburgh published two reports indicating that children residing near natural gas wells in heavily drilled areas of western Pennsylvania were more likely to develop a rare form of cancer. Additionally, nearby residents of all ages had an increased risk of severe asthma reactions. However, the researchers were unable to definitively establish a direct causal relationship between drilling and these health problems.

As the collaboration between Pennsylvania and CNX Resources begins to unfold, its outcomes have the potential to greatly impact the ongoing discourse surrounding fracking and its broader implications.

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