Intelligencer Journal/Lancaster New Era
Good idea, but ...
In our view
Natural gas drillers use 5 million gallons of fresh water for every well they drill. Every day, an estimated 300 million gallons of polluted mine water drains into the state's streams and rivers, killing fish and creating dead zones.
Last year, state lawmakers came up with a way to save fresh water and reduce acid mine water pollution in the state's streams by allowing drillers to use polluted mine water in the hydraulic fracturing process.
But what sounds like a win-win would actually be a real loser for Pennsylvanians.
Senate Bill 411 would allow companies to use acid mine drainage, which leaches corrosive heavy metals from rocks and is blamed for impairing more than 5,000 miles of streams in the state, in the fracking process.
The legislation would provide liability protection to any entity that pays to treat polluted mine drainage for fracking or other industrial uses. The provisions are modeled after policy recommendations issued in 2011 by Gov. Tom Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee, which encouraged the use of nonfreshwater sources where feasible.
That sounds like a great idea ... unless your drinking water source is located downstream or near a well site.
Attorneys for environmental groups argue that S.B. 411 would make it virtually impossible for homeowners or businesses to sue the drillers if their water becomes undrinkable.
They point to a state government memo asserting that the idea behind S.B. 411 is to exempt companies' liability under Pennsylvania's Clean Streams Law.
Supporters of the bill contend that it makes no sense to hold drillers liable for years after the fact for water they used for only a week or two. They argue that neighbors are covered under this legislation and that the bill does not remove all legal liabilities for drillers or industry as opponents claim.
But anytime highly corrosive water is pumped through a pipe into rock formations, it could find its way to nearby wells or aquifers.
And Pennsylvanians should have the right to sue for damages if mine-influenced water seeps into their wells or otherwise pollutes their water supply.
Pennsylvania already has in place the Environmental Good Samaritan Law, which grants companies using polluted water limited protection. It does not, however, give industries carte blanche.
S.B. 411, which is sponsored by state Sen. Richard Kasunic, is well-intentioned. It is designed to allow new technologies to dispose of the problems left behind by legacy industries.
But it should not exempt any industry -- new or old -- from liability for damages their products could cause.