Pennsylvania: In his first budget address since the hottest year in recorded history, delivered as California deals with a deadly, destructive atmospheric river, Governor Josh Shapiro had little to say about fossil fuels and continued to ignore the existential crisis they have brought about.
In his strategic plan launched days before the budget address where energy is presented as one of 5 priority industry sectors, Shapiro laid out an agenda plagued by old thinking about outmoded energy sources. He cited jobs growth myths that have been debunked repeatedly since 2013’s Multi-State Collaborative. His plan relies on an all-of-the-above energy mix. President Barack Obama coined the phrase a dozen years ago. He stopped using it four years later.
At first glance, hydrogen appears to be the new business on the governor’s energy agenda. A closer look reveals that hydrogen is nothing more than Fossil Fuels 3.0. Pennsylvania is part of two proposed publicly-funded hydrogen hubs on opposite ends of the state. Methane gas would provide the feedstock for most of the production and even the hydrogen produced from other sources would divert money and attention from making the transition away from fossil fuels.
Rather than force us into further subservience to the fossil fuel industry and into an existential crisis, Governor Shapiro needs to seize the opportunity to lead the transition from fossil fuels into an economy that is safe, healthy and serves to uplift Pennsylvanians and the world.
Governor Shapiro likes to “get sh*t done” quickly. Our future depends on him getting it done right.
For Immediate Release – February 23, 2024
Contact: Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition, 610-678-7726, firstname.lastname@example.org
Change to Pennsylvania’s Oil & Gas Waste Reporting System Provided Air of Legitimacy to Continued Road Spreading of Toxic, Radioactive Waste Despite Moratorium
Better Path Coalition Renews Call for Ban on Road Spreading After Discovering Change Made by Regulators at Driller’s Request
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection told the Better Path Coalition, in response to a Right-to-Know appeal, that it believes it was acting on a verbal request from Pennfield Energy when it made a significant, and concerning, change to the state’s oil and gas waste reporting system. In 2019, the agency added “brine co-product” to the list of options drillers could select when they were reporting that they had spread toxic, radioactive drilling waste on Pennsylvania roads despite a moratorium the agency put on the practice the previous year. The revelation has prompted the Coalition to renew its call for a ban on all road spreading of drilling waste in the state.
“Brine co-product” does not appear on the state’s list of Residual Waste Codes. In 2020, the Office of Oil and Gas Management updated its “Oil and Gas Reporting Electronic: Conventional Wells Production and Waste Reporting Guide.” Appendix D of the guide provides a list describing the types of waste drillers must report. Brine co-product is not on the list. According to the version history at the end of the document, the product type list was updated on March 12, 2019. Other updates to the document were made in May 2019 and September 2020.
The addition of “brine co-product” effectively gave the air of legitimacy to continued reporting of road spreading by drillers who believed they had found a loophole in a beneficial use program overseen by the agency’s Bureau of Waste Management. The co-product program allows waste to be used in place of a commercial product if it performs as well and is no more injurious to the environment or human health than the commercial product is. The program allows waste owners to make those determinations themselves without any requirement to even notify the DEP. Thus, drillers believed they could justify their continued spreading of toxic waste on Pennsylvania’s roadways by making use of the co-product loophole.
The Bureau of Waste Management did not begin requesting copies of drillers’ determination reports until 2021. The agency was unable to produce documents requested by Karen Feridun, Co-founder of the Better Path Coalition, that showed what, if any, process was used to approve the addition of “brine co-product” to the waste reporting system. It is not clear if the Office of Oil and Gas Management informed the Bureau of Waste Management that drillers were using the co-product program.
To date, no drillers have made proper determinations, according to records of communications the Coalition has received from the Bureau of Waste Management in responses to a series of Right-to-Know requests.
“The Office of Oil and Gas Management appears to have been more interested in legitimizing records, rather than ensuring they were truly legitimate,” says Feridun, who has followed the road spreading issue since the Bureau of Waste Management first requested determination reports from drillers and has periodically updated a brief, Moratorium Morass, she wrote in 2021.
Since the moratorium was declared, drillers have reported spreading more than 3 million gallons of waste on roads. However, the number of drillers reporting road spreading is a fraction of the number that reported using the disposal method prior to the moratorium.
The sharp drop in the number of drillers reporting road spreading after the moratorium raises another concern about drillers’ use of the co-product loophole. Among the documents Feridun received in response to a 2022 Right-to-Know request was a 2019 letter Pennfield Energy sent to townships that were prospective clients. The letter states that “Pennfield has obtained a Co-Product status instead of Waste with our brine. What this means is you don’t have to report spreading and it can be spread all year round. I know this is hard to believe because D.E.P. doesn’t make anything easy, but it’s true, you do need our brine analysis on hand and a copy of the D.E.P. regulation with Co-product determination. We will provide this to you once we you(sic) have completed and returned the enclosed agreement.” (emphasis added)
Before the Bureau of Waste Management requested Pennfield’s co-product determination report in 2021, the company had not reported any form of waste disposal from 2018 through 2020 even though the DEP’s Oil & Gas Well Production reports from the same three years show that the company produced 10165.66 barrels of oil.
“How many companies continued to road spread, but just stopped reporting it because they believed their waste was no longer a waste but a co-product? Nobody can answer that question and that’s a big problem,” said Feridun.
As Feridun’s 2021 brief concludes, “Decades-old problems with the management and tracking of oil and gas wastewater spread on Pennsylvania’s roads have made it impossible to know where it has been spread and in what quantities. Those problems have only deepened since drillers started availing themselves of the virtually unregulated Coproduct Determination program.”
“With no documentation and nothing more than a recollection of who made the verbal request, we can only speculate about why the request was made by Pennfield and why DEP fulfilled it. If the DEP believed that diminishing the integrity of the state’s official record of waste disposal was a fair trade off for getting drillers to disclose how much waste they had spread on Pennsylvania’s roads, they were wrong. The fact that Pennfield did not resume reporting waste disposal until they were contacted by the Bureau of Waste Management in 2021 proves that,” continued Feridun.
“In Moratorium Morass, we discussed the many problems with the way oil and gas waste is reported in Pennsylvania and provided specific examples of errors in the system that should be corrected and improvements to the system that would allow for better tracking of waste. It is particularly galling that the DEP was responsive to a driller’s request for a made-up product type but has yet to even acknowledge the recommendations we shared with them three years ago. By the way, none of our recommendations involved corrupting the data.” said Feridun.
The Better Path Coalition thanks Tim Fitchett of Fair Shake Environmental Legal Services for his assistance in negotiations during the appeal.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – January 12, 2024
Contact: Karen Feridun, Better Path Coalition, 610-678-7726, email@example.com
Better Path Coalition Points to Lack of Responsiveness & Bad Deals with Drillers in Shapiro’s First Year Review
Frontline- and Grassroots-led Coalition Adds Five New Recommendations to More than 30 Shapiro Ignored
Pennsylvania: Today, the Better Path Coalition submitted a letter to Governor Josh Shapiro that follows from a letter sent to him and his transition team a year ago. It is the second letter of its kind; the first was sent to mark his 100th day in office. And it is the second to find that he has all but ignored the more than 30 recommendations the original letter contained.
The new letter, sent days before the anniversary of his inauguration, adds five new recommendations based on his actions since taking office:
Walk the “No Wrong Door” talk
Rescind the CNX deal
Act on the DOH/Pitt health studies
End continued support for fossil fuels
Address ongoing needs of PA communities devastated by Norfolk Southern derailment
The letter also contains comments on the original recommendations following each section.
Over the past year, the coalition has attempted to reach out to Governor Shapiro several times with invitations to meet, to attend briefings with experts the group organizes each month, and to hear Pennsylvanians testify at the People’s Hearing on Climate Change during the 2023 Pennsylvania Climate Convergence last October. Contrary to his rhetoric about “No Wrong Door” to government, the coalition has encountered only closed doors, sometimes guarded by an armed officer. The letter closes letting the governor know our invitations still stand.
Read the full letter here.