Environmental Groups Work With PA DEP On Settlement To Allow Public Input On Shale Gas Wastewater Permits

Washington County, PA — The Environmental Integrity Project and five other environmental groups have reached an agreement with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to begin soliciting community input on 49 wastewater storage and reuse permits issued under a state drilling permit program. The organizations were deeply concerned about the lack of opportunity for public input from residents who live nearby these 49 shale gas operations sites that were granted DEP permits in December and January. In a February 4, 2021, letter the environmental groups asked the DEP to immediately suspend the permit approvals, publish public notices of its permit decisions and initiate a 60-day public comment period.

Today, the DEP agreed to allow public comment for all 49 permits issued under a General Permit known as WMGR123, and will accept public comments for 60 days from the date of public notice, which is expected no later than March 31, 2021. The Department has also agreed to consider all public comments and make modifications to the previously approved authorizations where appropriate. The Department will also investigate complaints it receives from concerned residents, and will communicate to such residents the results of DEP’s inquiry into such complaints.

The other environmental groups involved in the agreement are the Center for Coalfield Justice, Mountain Watershed Association, Clean Air Council, Earthworks and PennFuture.

“EIP is thrilled that our letter sent to the DEP, on behalf of our partner groups and concerned citizens, was able to spur a new public comment window for all 49 sites we were concerned did not have proper notice.  We look forward to reviewing the applications and working with DEP to make changes to any permits as warranted.  Today’s developments represent a win for the public throughout the Commonwealth – particularly those living near shale gas operations,” said Lisa Graves-Marcucci, PA Coordinator of Community Outreach, Environmental Integrity Project.

Said Veronica Coptis, Executive Director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, “CCJ believes that public notice and the opportunity to comment ensures that communities have a voice in the environmental decisions that affect them. The DEP did not follow its own newly adopted notification and public participation protocols for the 10-year general permits. Every community member who lives near a frack site should be allowed every opportunity to voice concerns before permits are issued. The DEP’s failure to notify and include impacted communities in the decision-making process was unacceptable, and we’re glad to have reached an agreement that addresses the need for community input.”

“The wastewater stored and processed at these residual waste facilities has been shown to contain high concentrations of radioactive contaminants, sometimes at levels thousands of times higher than what is safe for human exposure,” said Ashley Funk, Executive Director of Mountain Watershed Association. “We’ve worked with residents living near these facilities who are concerned about how these waste sites may be impacting their health, their farms, their families, and their water.  These residents deserve to have a voice in the permitting process to ensure that stringent protections are in place. We are glad that – as a result of this settlement – residents will have an opportunity for their voices to be heard.”

“Public participation is critical in ensuring that the gas industry’s dirtiest waste-handling sites don’t pollute our drinking water and sully our air,” said Joseph Otis Minott, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of Clean Air Council. “This agreement restores Pennsylvanians’ rights and helps to protect those most at risk from these dangerous facilities.”

“Pennsylvanians living in closest proximity to these shale gas waste facilities disproportionately bear the impacts of negative health effects associated with this industry and, as such, should have every opportunity to comment on these permits,” said PennFuture Attorney Angela Kilbert. “Today’s agreement with the DEP means increased access to information for residents and the chance to participate in robust dialogue well before these permits are issued, which is how the process should have unfolded all along.”

Said Cathy Lodge, Robinson Township, Washington County resident, “This settlement ensures that concerned community members like me will have a meaningful opportunity to comment on all of the permits that were authorized without public input, and that’s how it should be.  DEP must be transparent about the results of any investigations and any permit being considered. I’m glad that these environmental groups stepped in to help ensure our voices were heard.”

Link to stipulation of settlement:  https://environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Stipulation-of-Settlement-Executed-by-EIP_DEP.pdf

Link to Attachment 1:  https://environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/Attachment-1.pdf

Link to letter from EIP to DEP on 2/4/21: https://environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/EIP-letter-to-DEP-on-2.4.21.pdf

Link to list of permits granted without public input: https://environmentalintegrity.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ATTACHMENT-A.-2021.02.04-WMGR123-Permit-Issuances-that-Lacked-Proper-Notice-FINAL.pdf

Media contacts:

Jodi Hirsh, jodi@sequalconsulting.com, (412) 326-983
Lisa Graves Marcucci, lgmarcucci@environmentalintegrity.org, (412)897-0569