Are toxins in our drinking water?

A New York Times article
recently revealed a report from Ian Urbina regarding natural gas drilling in
Pennsylvania. He exclaimed, due to the Marcellus Shale drilling boom, that we
are the "Saudi Arabia of natural gas".

Unlike most states,
Pennsylvania does not require drillers to dispose of their drilling waste/frack
water in underground storage wells below impermeable rock layers. Instead, the
toxic water (laced with corrosive salts, carcinogens like benzene and
radioactive elements like radium) is discharged through sewage treatment plants
into rivers, including the Delaware and Susquehanna.

Some wastewater contained
radioactivity levels as high as 2,122 times the drinking-water standard.

Urbina reports, "while the
existence of the toxic wastes has been reported, thousands of internal
documents obtained by The New York Times from the Environmental Protection
Agency, state regulators and drillers show that the dangers to the environment
and health are greater than previously understood. And most drinking-water
intake plants downstream from those sewage treatment plants in Pennsylvania,
with the blessing of regulators, have not tested for radioactivity since before
2006, even though the drilling boom began in 2008. The level of radioactivity
in the waste- water has sometimes been hundreds or even thousands of times the
maximum allowed by the federal standard for drinking water."

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett
accepted more gas industry contributions than all his competitors combined. He
is now reopening state land to new drilling, reversing the moratorium we
established last year. This change clears the way for as many as 10,000 wells
on public land, up from about 25 active wells today.

In arguing against a proposed
gas-extraction tax on the industry (that us Democratic House members proudly
voted for several times), Mr. Corbett said regulation of the industry had been
too aggressive.

Mr. Urbina described the
"regulation" of the industry: "From October 2008 through October
2010, regulators were more than twice as likely to issue a written warning than
to levy a fine for environmental and safety violations, according to state
data. During this period, 15 companies were fined for drilling-related
violations in 2008 and 2009, and the companies paid an average of about $44,000
each year, according to state data. This average was less than half of what
some of the companies earned in profits in a day and a tiny fraction of the
more than $2 million that some of them paid annually to haul and treat the

What will our state legislators
do in response to this new information? I know what I would do - fight once
again for a moratorium on state owned lands and join every other state in our
nation that drills by passing a severance tax into law - revenue that can be
used to actually police the natural gas industry.

I would also fight to enforce
monitoring for any radioactivity in our drinking water.

Tom Houghton
former state representative, D-13
London Grove Township

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This Post Has One Comment

  1. lorrainest

    What goes on in Harrisburg affects all of us in Pennsylvania. I plan to watch more closely. PCE (Pennsylvania Cable News) broadcasts a lot of the sessions and it is amazing to watch what gets done (and not) and how it gets done. We should send more people like Tom Houghton back to Harrisburg. Republicans, unfortunately, always have big business in mind first. Then it is the rest of us that get their consideration.

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