When environmental laws that, surprisingly, include exemptions for the

When looking to implement a new policy, it is always imperative to assess the existing legislation in order to confirm that there is a genuine problem to be solved. While conducting this research, an interesting pattern emerged. There are seven federal environmental laws that, surprisingly, include exemptions for the oil and gas industry. The seven policies that exempt oil and gas facilities from regulation include the following: Safe Drinking Water Act, Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), Emergency Planning and Community Right to Know Act (TRI), Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), National Environmental Policy Act. The first problem we faced was that much of society remains uninformed about the various laws being implemented is that they assume the policies to be flawless. In reality, the policies implemented always have the potential to be modified and are, in fact, far from flawless. How can anyone act when they are unaware of what is truly being passed? For example, much of the public will blindly assume that the Clean Water Act is protecting their water from any and all pollution because that is what they want it to do. Now, the Clean Water Act does protect our water, but it is not as simple as people might believe. It set standards for stormwater runoff, and, in 1992, the EPA began requiring stormwater permits for oil and gas construction facilities that were five acres or larger. However, because policies are subject to change as time passes and as new administrations come and go, this was not a permanent state. In 2005, under the Bush Administration, Congress enacted an exemption permitting oil and gas construction facilities to avoid these stormwater permits and thus, leaving their stormwater pollution unregulated. While this might sound insignificant, stormwater is untreated and flows directly into rivers, groundwater, lakes, and oceans. This exemption allowed methane from fracking to be considered “acceptable” when leaking into surrounding grounds and waters. Another significant loophole I would like to highlight comes from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA). This act requires federal agencies to conduct environmental assessments for all major actions that might potentially affect the environment. If their assessment rules that the major action may significantly alter the environment, then an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required to be issued. The issued EIS will then document the act, the potential environmental impacts, and then a list of alternatives to the suggested policy or act. However, in 2005, Congress enacted an exemption for oil and gas drilling activities that would effectively circumvent the previously required issuing of an EIS. Congress provided 5 categorical situations in which an EIS would not need to be issued. The exemptions are as follows: (1) Individual surface disturbances of less than 5 acres so long as the total surface disturbance on the lease is not greater than 150 acres and site-specific analysis in a document prepared pursuant to NEPA has been previously completed. (2) Drilling an oil or gas well at a location or well pad site at which drilling has occurred previously within 5 years prior to the date of spudding the well. (3) Drilling an oil or gas well within a developed field for which an approved land use plan or any environmental document prepared pursuant to NEPA analyzed such drilling as a reasonably foreseeable activity, so long as such a plan or document was approved within 5 years prior to the date of spudding the well. (4) Placement of a pipeline in an approved right-of-way corridor, so long as the corridor was approved within 5 years prior to the date of placement of the pipeline. (5) Maintenance of a minor activity, other than any construction or major renovation of a building or facility (NEPA 2009). These five exemptions gave a free pass to 25% of all wells in the west. While we have not chosen to implement an education program that could inspire the public to act, we have opted for something that will provide some patchwork to these policies. Because of the blatant loopholes in the system of regulating fracking, we thought it would be best to standardize the construction of the wells being put into the ground. The loopholes currently avoid things that happen after the wells are already placed into the ground. So, if the construction of these wells becomes a standardized and foolproof process, the problem of leaking pollution will be prevented from the source. We have chosen to implement our policy in Pennsylvania because of their history of methane migration in areas where hydraulic fracturing occurs. In the case of Dimock, Pennsylvania, residents were finding gas sputters from their faucets, flammable puddles and even flammable waters from their drinking sources. The Department Environmental Protection ruled that much of the stray gas that was being found in their water was the result of poor well construction rather than fracking as a whole. This meant that the problem was not that fracking was occurring, it was that fracking was occurring without regulations to conduct it in the safest possible way. When a well is drilled, a steel casing is sent down into the cavity, then cement is poured down into the hole and pushed upwards to seal the open space between the inserted steel casing and the surrounding rock. The cement seal is supposed to prevent any gas, or fluid, from leaking but, in the case of Dimock, Pennsylvania, this process failed. Fred Baldassare, an inspector from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, reported that drilling combined with the bad cement practices can cause any gas pocket that has been stable for thousands of years to begin moving. THis is because methane, under high pressure, wants to migrate to an area of lower pressure. And drilling, whether the well is horizontal or vertical, deep or shallow, will provide that pathway (STATEIMPACT). This obvious need for change confirmed the problem stream of our policy to be implemented in the state of Pennsylvania. We also believe that simply implementing a new policy of standardizing the construction of these wells will be more feasible than going back and amending each policy that has exempted the regulation of gas and oil construction facilities. Another reason Pennsylvania is a viable option is because of their history of fighting to regulate fracking. One of the seven policies that oil and gas facilities found a way around was the Community Right-to-Know Act. The avoidance of complying with this act allows companies to avoid disclosing the chemicals that they are putting into areas affected by hydraulic fracturing. However, in April of this year, Democratic Senator Bob Casey introduced the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness Act, which will increase environmental protections for communities where natural gas drilling takes place. This act patches up one environmental law loophole by requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they are introducing into the environment, and we hope that Casey will assist us in patching up the other six.