President Barack Obama has proposed opening up new areas for offshore drilling, including in the Atlantic. For this month's Environmental Outlook, Diane and her guests discuss the prospects for finding oil and gas offshore, and the environmental and safety concerns.
The state of Pennsylvania is in the forefront of the current rush to extract natural gas, and it also seems to be in the middle of an increasingly contentious debate over related environmental risks. The process of extracting natural gas involves forcing millions of gallons of water deep into the earth to break up rock and release the gas. Environmentalists say that in some states, including Pennsylvania, this waste water which is often laden with heavy salts and naturally occurring radioactive materials is being improperly discharged into rivers and streams. Please join us for conversation on the risks and rewards of drilling for natural gas.
- Tony Ingraffea Dwight C. Baum Professor of Engineering Weiss Presidential Teaching Fellow Cornell University
- Amy Mall policy analyst, Natural Resources Defense Council
- Kathryn Klaber president, Marcellus Shale Coalition
- Ian Urbina reporter, NY Times
- John Quigley former secretary Pennsylvania's Department of conservation and Natural Resourses
- John Hanger former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The rush to extract natural gas goes on, as does the debate over environmental risks associated with the process. An enormous reserve beneath the Appalachian Mountains put states like Pennsylvania at the center of controversy. Joining me to help us understand the risks and rewards of drilling for natural gas, John Quigley. He's former secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Good morning to you, John.
MR. JOHN QUIGLEYGood morning.
REHMAlso here in the studio, Ian Urbina. He is a reporter with The New York Times. His front-page piece appeared this past Saturday or Sunday. Good morning to you.
MR. IAN URBINAGood morning.
REHMGood to have you here. Kathryn Klaber is president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Good morning to you.
MS. KATHRYN KLABERGood morning.
REHMThank you for being here. And joining us from a studio at Colorado Public Radio, Amy Mall. She is with the Natural Resources Defense Council. Good morning, Amy. Thanks for joining us.
MS. AMY MALLGood morning.
REHMAnd to all of you, we will be taking your phone calls, your comments, your e-mail a little later in the program, and I look forward to hearing from you. Ian, if I could start with you, your front-page piece in The New York Times on Sunday went into detail about some problems associated with hydrofracking, especially in Pennsylvania. Explain the scope of your piece.
URBINAThe piece set out to answer a couple basic questions. First, we wanted to see as best as we could what sort of contaminants are in the wastewater that's produced by this drilling, of which there is quite a lot produced. And then we wanted to see where this wastewater was going and how it was being disposed of during the period that we were looking at, which was mostly 2008 to 2010. And, lastly, we wanted to see to what extent there was monitoring to check for hazards caused by this wastewater.
URBINAAnd what we found was, in the wastewater, there are significant levels of radioactivity. Much of the wastewater during this period was being sent through sewage treatment plants that are ill-equipped to treat the wastewater and remove some of the contaminants, especially the radioactivity, and discharging into rivers, often upstream from drinking water intake plants that were not doing regular testing for radioactivity.
REHMSo conclusions that you reached doing the kind of research you did?
URBINATwo big ones. One was there need to be more monitoring both at, perhaps, the sewage treatment plant level and also at the drinking water intake plant level to check for potential radioactivity.
REHMAnd to -- you talked about significant levels. I'd like to understand what that means and the level of danger or concern that you found with that radioactivity.
URBINAIn terms of the levels we found, we looked at -- I'll just back up and say, previously, there was very little data out there about these levels, so a small data set -- 20, 30 wells. What we hold were records -- Pennsylvania state records, for the most part, and looked at 240 wells. And what we found was, specifically radium and gross alpha -- two different concerns, radioactivity concerns. And in the case of at least 15 wells, there were these radioactivity levels that were a thousand times the drinking water -- the safe drinking water level. And then in the case of 116 wells, the levels of radium and gross alpha were over a hundred times the drinking water level.
REHMWho was doing this research with you?
URBINAThis was just me. I mean, it took quite a while, but the -- it was the newspaper. And the challenge of doing a research is most of these records are only accessible if you visit state offices in Pennsylvania and pull those records. So we spent time going to various state offices and getting those records.
REHMNow, were those wells in active use, the ones that you were particularly concerned about?
URBINAYeah, it varies, you know. So within the 240 -- the stage that the well was at varied. And it's unclear what stage they are at now. But for all of the data that we pulled, those were samplings from wells of the wastewater that had been produced by that well during its -- either post-drilling or during drilling period.
REHMBut what I'm asking is, were people continuing to drink water from those wells?
URBINANo, these are not -- let me clarify. When I speak of wells, I'm speaking of natural gas drilling wells as opposed to drinking water wells. So...
REHMBut I thought you were also saying that some of the well water was also being contaminated. I'm wrong there.
URBINAYeah, I apologize if I didn't make that clear. No. We didn't look at well water contamination at all.
REHMSo you were looking at water as it was produced after the fracking process?
URBINAYes. Let me clarify. So during the fracking process -- hydrofracking involves a lot of water to break up the shale and to get the -- it's a stimulation method to get the gas flowing. A fair amount of water comes back up from the drilling well...
URBINA...and that's the wastewater. And in that wastewater, there are contaminants. And we were looking at those contaminants in that wastewater and where that wastewater was getting shipped for disposal.
REHMAnd, for the most part, it was getting shipped to?
URBINAMuch of it was being shipped during that period to treatment plants, often sewage treatment plants which are designed to handle sewage, not industrial waste and, therefore, not typically equipped to remove many of the contaminants in this industrial type waste.
REHMSo what would then happen to that water?
URBINAIt runs through the sewage treatment plants, and some treatment occurs in that process but not complete treatment by any means. And then it's discharged on the other side of the plant into rivers. And that is where we followed the concern down as best we could to see what monitoring is going on in those rivers or downstream at the drinking water intake plant that pulls from the rivers, what monitoring is happening at those stages for potential radioactivity. And that's where we found the monitoring to be a bit lacking.
REHMA bit lacking.
REHMSeverely lacking. Ian Urbina, he's a reporter for The New York Times. His extensive piece appeared in Sunday's New York Times. And turning to you, Kathryn Klaber, drilling for natural gas is taking off in many, many areas of the country, but why, particularly, in Pennsylvania?
KLABERWell, I think there's quite a few reasons. One is the desire for energy continues to go up, and Pennsylvania is very close to a lot of the markets that use that energy, the Northeast Corridor of the United States in particular. I think, also, the gas, the quality of the gas that has been produced out of the wells in Pennsylvania are very high. So as you're investing $4 million in each well site, you're seeing a lot of good gas from that investment. So those, in combination, really, with the kind of technology breakthroughs that have allowed that horizontal drilling to be done cost-effectively, altogether has made this really the center of gas development.
REHMExplain how that horizontal drilling works.
KLABERSure. Whereas traditionally shallow wells would be drilled vertically, so every place you wanted to go down and access gas, you would have to drill one vertical well. As the technology has developed, that you can drill by going down first and then bending and going out, you're able, with much less of a surface impact, to access much more energy. And it's not just in one direction. Once you develop a well pad, you can then go down vertically and out in multiple directions. So, again, you're only investing in the site development and that land disturbance for many more cubic feet of gas per well site.
REHMAnd so what these individual companies are doing, I gather, is paying the landowners for development of that fracking process.
KLABERWell, fracking is just a very, very small part of the overall well development process. But, yes, I mean, the business partners in this part of the country are, by and large, private landowners. And you enter into a contract with those private landowners, some of whom may have a well on their site, more of whom won't because of that ability to drill horizontally. That process, you know, occurs over a mile below the surface of that surface property. And, you know, that's the way in this part of the country that the development occurs.
REHMWhat about the kinds of concerns that Ian raised this morning and in his article?
KLABERWell, he mentioned, you know, research and monitoring. And there is a tremendous amount of research that goes on on a daily basis within the natural gas industry, in particular in a quickly developing play like the Marcellus. The monitoring is also extensive. There are entire staffs that my member companies who are doing this work on a regular basis. I think that, you know, the article acknowledges ingestion is the major pathway, but I think there are some real gaps I hope we talk about as to why that does not reach the drinking water.
REHMWe will. Short break, and we'll be right back.
REHMAnd welcome back. Just before the break, you were hearing the voice of Kathryn Klaber. She's president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. We're talking about environmental concerns that have been raised -- certainly laid out rather vividly in Urbina's piece in the Sunday New York Times -- which we will have a link to on our own website. Kathryn Klaber, you wanted to finish up with your explanation.
KLABERRight. I mean, I think the piece didn't clearly, for the reader, draw the connection as to what happens at a well site is very different from the water that eventually makes it to a water treatment plant. And, you know, as you can well imagine, we take many precautions to not have people come on to the well sites. And, certainly, there's no expectation that there would be drinking of the water that comes immediately back up from that well.
REHMBut if it's flowing into the treatment site and then back into rivers...
KLABERBut it's not. What is happening now is truly a breakthrough nationally, where, in Pennsylvania, the levels of recycling of this water are up at 90 percent overall. Some of our members -- some of the large ones -- have hit 100 percent recycling. That water never even does make it to any waterway because it's being used in the next well. So that's the first issue. The second issue is there is a lot of solids removal along various steps of the process. In fact, Pennsylvania has a new total dissolved solid standard as of 2010 that takes additional solids out before that water can even go to a sewage treatment plant, let alone back in the water.
REHMWhat about the radioactive elements?
KLABERWell, those elements have half-lives. I mean, they do not end up in the same place even an hour after the sample is taken from the values that were taken right at the wellhead. And those materials, those naturally occurring radioactive materials, are tested. Many of the companies are testing that water, see huge amounts of reductions in both total and suspended solids, and those solids that are then disposed are highly regulated in Pennsylvania. They're monitored before any batch of solids enter a landfill, so many monitoring, lots of stopgaps in place.
REHMKathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition. Turning to you now, John Hanger, (sic) as former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, what was your reaction? Pardon me?
REHMForgive me. Forgive me.
QUIGLEYIt's quite all right.
REHMAll right. Please talk about what your reaction was to Ian's piece.
QUIGLEYWell, Ian and I spoke as he was writing the piece. I think he raised some very strong concerns about the radioactivity, and, I think, that's an issue that needs to be dealt with. If there isn't adequate testing and monitoring going on, we need to do that. We need to get that in place immediately. But I do think it's important to note that, under the leadership of Gov. Rendell, over the last two years in particular, as the Marcellus Shale play picked up speed in Pennsylvania, there was, I think, what I would call a heroic effort done on putting in place the right regulations. My former colleague, John Hanger, at the Department of Environmental Protection and his staff, did just, I think, essential work to protect the environment and public health.
QUIGLEYThey put in place regulations on treatment of wastewater, the total dissolved solid issue that Katy (sp?) mentioned. They rewrote the well construction standards to have a solid set of standards so that many of the issues that are associated with natural gas drilling can be dealt with with good quality well construction standards. There were things like setbacks, how far a well can be drilled away from a high-quality watercourse. And DEP, over the last couple of years -- thanks to Gov. Rendell -- more than doubled its enforcement staff. So there was a heroic effort made over the last couple years, in particular, to get the commonwealth where it needs to be in terms of enforcement. Now, I will say that I don't think that job is done.
QUIGLEYThere is still work that needs to be done in terms of things like well spacing. Tracking of this wastewater, I think, is incredibly important. We have to have data. It's got to be transparent to the public. It's got to be reported regularly. It's got to be monitored. There are issues around local zoning and the establishment of no-drill zones, like in watersheds and in floodplains that, I think, need to be looked at. So I think the regulatory trajectory that Pennsylvania has been on for the last couple of years is the right one. Those regulations need to continue to be enforced. Our new governor, Tom Corbett, has said he wants the Department of Environmental Protection to be the cop on the beat, and I think that's, frankly, exactly what we need.
QUIGLEYAnd at the end of the day, it's in the interest of both the public and the industry to get this play right. There are enormous environmental and economic benefits to be had because of this play. But we can only extract natural gas responsibly if we have the right regulations in place, if we have the right enforcement in place and we have the ability to adapt as new information becomes available. And, I think, the other essential feature is that we've got to protect the public lands, and that was an issue that I was intimately involved with over the last couple years.
REHMJohn Quigley, former secretary of Pennsylvania's Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. Now, I want to turn to Amy Mall. She is a policy analyst for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Amy, what are you seeing across the country in terms of these issues regarding safety in terms of radiation, in terms of radioactive wastewater?
MALLWell, Diane, I think you framed it correctly when you said it's a rush to drill. There's natural gas being produced in more than 20 states, and the expansion of the activity is astronomical. There have been over 75,000 wells just drilled since 2005. So in states across the country, we're seeing communities with very serious concerns, some individuals who've had serious health illnesses that live near natural gas.
REHMLike what? Like what?
MALLThe health illnesses?
MALLWell, they range. But, for example -- and I hate to be graphic -- there are reports of children who have woken up, covered in blood because they're -- they have severe nosebleeds. There are some individuals with very serious neurological symptoms, meaning they might have difficultly walking. And there are people with respiratory symptoms such as asthma. There are folks with rashes. It will depend whether they're exposed to contaminants in their air or in their water, and the contaminants may vary from location to location. But there's a universe of issues, you know, that involve air and water poisoning that we're very concerned about.
MALLAnd communities are -- because the industry is expanding so rapidly, the regulations have not been brought up-to-date. As Mr. Quigley said, some states are really starting to realize they've been behind the curve, and they must update their regulations. But none of them are strong enough, and then the enforcement capacity has not been strong enough. Most states don't have enough inspectors. For example, West Virginia has about 60,000 wells, and they have 12 inspectors right now. Obviously, those wells aren't being inspected the way they need to be. And that's a pattern that we're seeing in many, many places. And communities are growing in their concern.
MALLThe other thing we're very concerned about is that the federal laws are not strong enough. We have some bedrock environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Clean Air Act. Everybody's heard of them. Everybody supports them. But they have gaping loopholes for this industry that have been special treatment that's been handed out by politicians over the years. So when you talk about, for example, the radioactivity in the waste -- and, by the way, there are many other contaminants we're worried about in the waste, such as -- it could be benzene, which is a carcinogen. It could be arsenic, which is known to cause serious health effects, and others.
MALLWe have a federal law that governs waste management, and there are special parts of that law reserved for hazardous waste. Hazardous waste, known to cause harm to human health, is typically regulated under stronger provisions than non-hazardous waste. But the natural gas industry is exempt from those provisions for hazardous waste. So part of the reason this waste is such an enormous issue is that it's not regulated the way other toxic waste is. And the concerns that we're hearing from communities are from people who live near the operations.
MALLBut then, as you've seen in the article in The New York Times, this waste is transported to other locations. So many, many more people could be exposed to it. And it's not being governed or regulated under our absolute strictest environmental laws that we have in this country for every other industry.
REHMAmy Mall, she's...
MALLWe really think those loopholes need to be closed.
REHMAmy Mall is policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council. She joins us from the studios of Colorado Public Radio. And joining us now is John Hanger. He's former secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. Good morning to you, sir.
MR. JOHN HANGERGood morning. Thanks for having me.
REHMSure. How well do you think the Department of Environmental Protection in Pennsylvania has been able to keep up with the demands of this extraordinarily fast-growing hydrofracking process?
HANGERWell, I think John Quigley pretty well laid it out.
REHMWell, I'd like your opinion as well.
HANGERSure. I became secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection on Sept. 2, 2008. And at Gov. Rendell's direction, we immediately, at that point, set about moving forward four major regulatory actions, most of which were completed in 2010. One was actually completed in 2008. The four governed the withdrawal of water. We now have a very strict water plant that's been in effect in -- since 2008. It wasn't mentioned in The New York Times story. We moved forward a waste drilling program that now we have some of the strongest rules in the entire country.
HANGEROn the issue of wastewater, we moved forward a regulation, starting in 2009. It was completed in August 2010. But we started applying the standards to individual permits in 2009. We are the only state who's taken the issue of staffing seriously. The NRDC representative is absolutely correct that staffing is a critical factor. When I became secretary, we were at 88 employees in the gas oversight staff, and we're now at 202. We increased the staff well more than double, and there isn't a state in the nation who can approach that record.
HANGERAnd we also stated that staffing should be reviewed every year. We hire three separate times because the strong rules on paper do no good if you don't have...
HANGER...gas oversight staff.
REHMI'd like to know how much coordination there was with federal regulators.
HANGERWell, frankly, not much. The Environmental Protection Agency has been, I think, watching this play. Most of the laws in -- that apply directly in Pennsylvania are state laws, though the Clean Air Act does apply and the Clean Water Act also applies and the Safe Drinking Water Act, most certainly, does apply. So federal laws do apply to this area as well. I -- when I read the piece in The New York Times -- and I wasn't interviewed by the reporter before. I was interviewed before it was published, though I was quoted.
HANGERI was shocked by some of the information in there, including representations that unnamed EPA scientists had major concerns about the disposal of waste in Pennsylvania. That information was never brought to my attention. I don't know if it was brought to high-level officials in EPA or not, but I'm very, very interested in that information (unintelligible)
REHMAll right. And let me ask, Ian, exactly about that and the EPA concerns.
URBINACommunication does seem to be a problem. I think John's right about that, and we're going to have a couple more pieces in the next several days on this. The concerns among federal regulators are real, and what to do about them seems to be an ongoing debate within the EPA. But, again, I think Amy is also quite right in saying that most of regulation of this industry resides with the states. And so the oversight...
REHMAll right. Well, let me understand specifically what EPA's greatest concerns are.
URBINAFrom what I can tell -- and I can't claim to work there -- but from the documents that I have in Pennsylvania, the biggest concern is waste disposal and how the waste is being treated there. It's distinct to a large degree in Pennsylvania because Pennsylvania doesn't have the option that many other states do in terms of disposing of its waste by getting rid of it in injection wells.
REHMIan Urbina, he is a reporter for The New York Times. You're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." Here is what I don't understand. If John Hanger is saying he never heard of any such concerns from the EPA, why would the EPA not be telling the State of Pennsylvania the man who presumably is in charge of taking care of this? Why would that information not be communicated?
HANGERWell, could I jump in on that?
REHMSure. Go ahead, John Hanger.
HANGERWell, I mean, that it's -- obviously, I would have liked to receive that if the concerns are what the reporter states they are. And I think it can be...
REHMI don't think he's lying, Mr. Hanger.
HANGERWell, I mean, I've run a bureaucracy where there is a significant amount of information, and sorting through that information and getting to a real good conclusion is a complicated process. And I think that's probably what's been going on at the EPA. So I think what I have said on my blog -- and I would urge that your radio station to link to my blog as well as to The New York Times story -- is that The New York Times now has put forward the possibility that the drinking water in Pennsylvania has unhealthy levels of radium. And, as far as I'm concerned -- and this is my position -- when I was at the DEP, there can be no compromise on safety of drinking water.
JOHN HANGERI think the only responsible response to The New York Times is actually to test the drinking water immediately and disclose those results to the public. Let's stop the argument about the EPA and other things. Let's go test the water.
REHMAll right. Ian, can you talk about actions planned by the EPA, your forthcoming articles?
URBINASure. Now, again, I think John and I agree on this point, and I think it's one of the points the Times piece is making. Not singular testing but ongoing testing, both at the sewerage treatment plant level and also at the drinking water and plant level, in any place that drilling waste is being processed, that seems, to me, the logical thing to occur -- ongoing testing. In terms of the EPA, we have a story coming soon that looks at that issue and sort of what the debate is within the EPA about how to handle Pennsylvania...
REHMBut -- hold on, please. Is it that the fracking itself, the oil -- the gas drilling itself has gotten ahead of the testing process?
URBINAThe monitoring process, you mean?
URBINAMy sense from reporting is that there needs to be more monitoring to keep up with the drilling process.
REHMIan Urbina, reporter for The New York Times. Short break and right back.
REHMAnd we're back talking about what's going on with the gas drilling in Pennsylvania, in New York, all over the country. It is a process called fracking that goes through the shale down about a mile and then moves laterally to -- with water, loads and loads of water under great pressure to free the gas. Joining us now is Tony Ingraffea. He is professor of engineering at Cornell University. Good morning to you, sir.
PROF. TONY INGRAFFEAGood morning, Diane.
REHMExplain the effort to understand exactly what's in the wastewater and where it goes after the fracturing process.
INGRAFFEASure. What is in the wastewater is predominantly water. But when the water was injected to start the hydraulic fracturing process, certain necessary chemicals were added to facilitate the fracking process. Much of those chemicals comes back with the water as it's regurgitated out of the well after the fracking -- fracturing process. But while the water and those chemicals are underground in the shale, in the surrounding rock, they pick up naturally occurring chemicals that are in the shale in the surrounding rock. And those are mostly salts, like common sodium chloride, but also calcium chloride, potassium chloride, heavy metals.
INGRAFFEAIn the Marcellus Shale, those are basically strontium, barium and traces of other heavy metals and naturally occurring radioactive materials, radium and its sisters. So there are chemicals that go down with the water, and, while those chemicals and water are underground, they pick up another load of chemicals that are naturally occurring. So that now -- that concoction of water and chemicals comes back to the surface where everybody has the responsibility -- primarily the gas industry -- to safely store it, transport it and safely dispose of it so it causes no harm to the environment or human health.
REHMExplain what happened at the Monongahela River.
INGRAFFEAThat's a story that's told in The New York Times article. One can read about what happened, in fact, on the Pennsylvania DEP website. There were various studies that had to be done in response to the load of what are called total dissolved solids -- those are mostly the salts and the other solid materials that are dissolved in the wastewater -- were being passed through the wastewater treatment plants in a way that the treatment plants could not handle it, remove it as quickly as they could or as rapid -- or as effectively as they could.
REHMSo what was the end result?
INGRAFFEAThe end result was Monongahela River and other rivers in Pennsylvania have, at times, over the past few years, found themselves carrying a much higher load of total dissolved solids, which, in some cases, has resulted in water treatment plants that are downstream of the wastewater treatment plants. These are the plants that treat the water coming out of the river so we can drink it. Those treatment plants producing fresh water were unable to take the heavily-laden water out of the Monongahela and other rivers and process it so that it could be consumed by humans. In other words, humans had to find water out of bottles rather than out of their taps.
REHMSo, Ian, you have said it's very important to distinguish between salts and the other solid elements like radium. Why is that so important?
URBINAWell, I think it's important because the state has made great strides when it comes to confronting the salt's problem and monitoring for that and trying to limit it. What my story was looking at was the radioactivity problem and monitoring, and that's an area where there is very little monitoring going on at the places where it should be, at the drinking intake level.
REHMTony Ingraffea, I gather you were contacted by an EPA scientist. Is that correct?
REHMAnd that person had to use freedom of information to get?
INGRAFFEAI'm sorry. Could you repeat that question?
REHMIs the freedom of information at issue here for you, Ian, as you were writing that story?
URBINAYour question is, how difficult was it to get this information? It was a challenge. These things always are a challenge. Some of it is not necessarily by design. But a lot of the key information was there in state records, but you had to collect it. And from the state and federal level, you had to go through a very slow process of public records requests to get the information.
REHMAll right. Kathryn Klaber, I know you take issue with the number of statements that Amy Mall has put forward. Why don't you talk about those?
KLABERWell, I mean, I think, from what we've all talked about, there's clearly a common ground on enforcement. There is a lot of enforcement going on, and...
REHMBut not enough.
KLABER...of the -- there is more enforcement going on right now in Pennsylvania than my member companies see around the rest of the country.
REHMIs there enough to ensure that these radium solids do not go into the rivers after processing?
KLABERWe would need to talk to the final water treatment companies about that. But there is -- there is monitoring and there is reporting going on, and there is -- there are regulations, state and federal, that cover every single inch of this process. And I think that that's what gets lost in some of these conversations. There is disclosure, more than ever before, in this industry and in particular in Pennsylvania. DEP's website has more information on well locations, on materials produced, on volumes. The amount of information that is out there right now tramps what could have even been found two years ago.
REHMIan, is there enough oversight of what's going on here?
URBINAOn the specific issue of radioactivity, the federal law allows for drinking water intake plants to test every three years for radioactivity. And, if radioactivity is not found, then they are then allowed not to test in as regular intervals, and they only have to test six to nine years. So when we looked at the data from the drinking water intake side to see how often they tested, none of them had tested since 2008, which is when the highest amount of drilling wastewater was being run through these plants.
REHMAnd what John Hanger is saying is that, since 2008, the testing has become more intense?
URBINAAgain, the testing...
HANGERCan I jump in on that?
REHMSure. Go ahead, John.
HANGERThank you. Look, on the radiation piece of Ian's story, the only answer to it is to test the water at the drinking facility. But Ian's story goes well beyond that. He charges Pennsylvania that has lax oversight of gas drilling. And, in fact, Pennsylvania has the most aggressive oversight of any state in the union. He got it exactly backwards, and that is a very serious...
REHMBut, John Hanger, the question is not how much there is. The question is, is it enough?
HANGERWell, on the...
REHMAnd that's what I'm trying to understand.
HANGERExcuse me, Diane. On radiation, the answer, right now, is no. And that's why we have to test at the drinking water supply. On all of these other issues, in Pennsylvania at least, there is incredibly aggressive regulation and enforcement. We have ordered companies for many, many months to stop drilling, to stop fracking and all the rest of it at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. Ask EOG or Cabot Oil & Gas whether they have had lax regulation in Pennsylvania.
HANGERAsk any number of companies.
REHMAll right. I'm...
HANGER...outside of the issue of radiation, yes, in Pennsylvania, we're ready to roll (word?).
REHMAll right. I want to...
MALLMay I comment?
REHM...turn to Amy Mall. Go right ahead.
MALLThank you so much. You know, The New York Times did an incredibly important and impressive job of documenting and investigating exactly what's happening with this waste. But a point that should not be lost is that it is not news that this waste is radioactive. We have known this. It has been documented by the federal government and others for many, many years. And it should have been watched all along. And the fact is that this industry has, for many years, been left to self-regulate and self-report when there are problems.
MALLTypically, when the public finds out about problems, it's because some citizen happened to come across the information -- maybe a leak or a spill when they were hiking -- or a really great investigative journalist takes it on and has the resources to really spend the time to investigate. But it's not news that this waste is radioactive. It's not news that's its toxic. But it's been exempt from our federal law that governs waste. And states, you know, as we've heard -- yes, Pennsylvania has increased its regulation, which is a good thing, but you've made the point right on, which is, you know, whether there is more disclosure than two years ago is not really the solution. The question is, is it enough?
MALLAnd we know that, you know -- and, you know, the thing is it doesn't have to be this way. We know that there are many, many technologies that are available to the industry that are quite affordable that allow them...
KLABERAnd they're being used.
MALL...that allow them to do their work in much better ways. They're not being used every place. They're being used some places where there's very high scrutiny and public attention, but they're what we call best -- the very best practices. They're not being adopted uniformly by companies, and they could be. But companies typically want to keep doing business the way they have been unless they're absolutely forced with strict penalties and strict regulations to do otherwise. And...
MALL...you know, that's the -- really, the bottom line here is we know these companies can operate better. Government has not been requiring them to although governments are now starting to pay more attention. But...
REHMAll right. I want to get Tony Ingraffea in here on that.
INGRAFFEAYes. Thank you, Diane. I would like to react to some of the statistics that Ms. Klaber quoted...
MALLHope he says something good.
INGRAFFEA...earlier in the show. Yes. Some things that are lost in these discussions are facts. So she mentioned that 90 to 100 percent of the waste currently being produced in Pennsylvania is being recycled. Clearly, as Amy just pointed out, a best practice would be to recycle all of it everywhere. That would minimize the problems of the waste going to the wastewater treatment plans and then potentially downstream to the drinking water treatment plants. The fact is -- and this is the fact -- that 90 percent to 100 percent of the waste being produced in Pennsylvania are not being recycled.
INGRAFFEAWhat she meant to say is that some of the 74 operators currently producing gas in Pennsylvania are recycling 100 percent of some of the waste from some of their wells over a brief period of time. Every one of those words is crucially important to your listeners to understand what the actual impact is. It's inappropriate. It's disingenuous to say that the problem has gone away because we now are practicing the best practice uniformly across the state, every well, every frack job, every company. That is just not the truth.
URBINATony is right on point there. I think that there is -- numbers are tricky, and, on the recycling issue, they're especially tricky. And the industry in -- has said that 90 percent is being recycled. That's true for some companies some of the time. If you look...
REHMSome of the companies some of the time.
KLABERThat's out -- that's across the board.
URBINAAnd so we crunched the data from the state, and it'll be in tomorrow's paper. It's state data. And it indicates that less than half of the waste produced for the 18 months, ending in December 2010, is actually recycled of the total produced. And so, while there are high statistics being quoted for recycling, the state data does not bare that out.
KLABERLast I checked, I'm the one in the room who has been in western Pennsylvania, in the offices of these companies, looking at the way that this water is being managed on a regular basis. And, I think, we should be looking at Pennsylvania as a leader to get us to a point where we are able to produce energy for Americans with ever decreasing amounts of water.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." John Quigley.
QUIGLEYWell, I think the point that I would want to make in all of this is that we can go back and forth and debate statistics. You know, Mark Twain said there are lies, damn lies and statistics. I think, at the end of the day, government needs to do more. And that flies in the face of, I think, conventional political wisdom that government needs to do less or it needs to shrink.
REHMBut does that mean that the process of fracking should slow down?
QUIGLEYWell, I think either the process of fracking needs to slow down until government catches up, or government needs to speed up its regulatory functions, understand the data, put in place the right monitoring, the regular reporting, the transparency that is obviously needed. When you have competing claims like this, the only way to resolve it is get the data, let it all hang out, let the public take a look at it. And government then needs to respond with the appropriate public policy.
REHMIan Urbina, do you believe that, as a result of the articles The New York Times has done -- is doing, that EPA will step into the process more rapidly?
URBINAI don't know. I don't know quite simply. I can't answer that.
REHMDo you feel that that is something that needs to be done? I'll turn to Amy Mall.
MALLYes, absolutely. We think the EPA should be doing more. But, to give them credit, the EPA, you know, is a large organization that's been gearing up since decades of really ignoring this industry and letting it do whatever it wants. And so, under the Obama administration, EPA has really started to take a hard look at this industry. They're reviewing the air pollution, the toxic air pollutants, and they're about to embark on a large scientific study of the threats of hydraulic fracturing. But that's not enough. We do absolutely think they should be and they can be doing more.
REHMOn the other hand, Kathryn Klaber, the country is looking for energy sources, and fracturing seems to be something everybody is getting into.
KLABERWell, natural gas has been used for years to lower air emissions. The burning of gas for electricity, for, you know, heating homes and cooking food and industrial processes is an incredibly clean energy source. So it's not only available and more competitively priced at this point because of the supply, but it's an answer to a lot of the very environmental issues that we all care about.
REHMDo you believe that to be so, John Quigley?
QUIGLEYI think, absolutely, the country can lower its carbon emissions very significantly by shifting to natural gas. We can turn off some of the dirtiest coal-fired power plants that pollute the air, that kill people, literally. One out of six women in this country of child-bearing age has elevated levels of mercury in her blood, which retards fetal development, and that's because the way we burn coal. So a shifting to cleaner-burning natural gas is essential to reduce our carbon emissions and protect public health...
QUIGLEY...but we've got to do it the right way.
REHM...Tony Ingraffea, you have real concerns.
INGRAFFEAYes, I do. Again, two comments in response to Ms. Klaber. She mentioned earlier that the need for energy continues to rise in the United States. That's not true. In fact, total energy consumption in the United States has decreased each year for the last three years and probably will continue to do so because of increased use of conservation and efficiency. Second thing is natural gas is not cleaner than coal.
REHMAll right. We'll have to leave it there. Tony Ingraffea of Cornell, John Hanger, Amy Mall, Kathryn Klaber, Ian Urbina and John Quigley, thank you all so much. Thanks for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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