Erie – May 5, 2016 – At the request of state Sen. Sean Wiley, the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee held a hearing today on problems related to gas drilling in the Lake Erie watershed.

“We need to make responsible and measured decisions about where we can expand – as well as where we should limit – the presence, growth and impact of gas drilling,” said Sen. Lisa Boscola (D-Northampton/Lehigh), who chairs the committee. “Land owners, local communities and critical watershed regions like Lake Erie cannot take a back seat to company profits. ”

Sen. Sean Wiley (D-Erie) said he called for the hearing to focus statewide attention on issues such as clean water withdrawal from Lake Erie as well as concerns over the disposal of shale gas wastewater and the potential for catastrophic contamination of sources of drinking water.

“The Lake Erie watershed is a prime destination for anglers and hunters,” Wiley said. “It is imperative that we take the necessary steps to protect and preserve this pristine resource that has been so important to our region for so long.”

Wiley said that hundreds of thousands of people fish the Ohio and Pennsylvania portions of Lake Erie, which overlie much of the Utica shale gas formation. While agreeing that the economic and job benefits of gas drilling are significant, Wiley cautioned that huge water withdrawals from the watershed, threats of wastewater pollution and well integrity issues could alter stream flows, threaten steelhead fishing and encourage the introduction of invasive species in the region.

Much of today’s hearing focused on state laws regulating gas drilling and what steps can be taken to better protect the state’s watershed regions. Boscola called for the need to strike a “balance” between efforts to encourage gas drilling and competing efforts to protect community, recreational, health and environmental interests.

Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkemper said she cannot support gas drilling in the Erie watershed because there are too many risks to “our health, public safety and to the beautiful resource that is Lake Erie.

Pointing to devastating natural gas explosions around the state, Dahlkemper asked, “How much risk is too much risk? We have a duty to protect the Lake Erie watershed and a responsibility to protect this fresh water resource that provides drinking water for tens of thousands of people, has generated $980 million in tourism and provides some of the best fishing in the nation.”

 

Dr. Marsha Haley, who serves as an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the University of Pittsburgh, pointed to studies indicating that leaching of drilling wastewater can affect the chemical composition of streams and adversely impact water ecosystems and watershed wildlife.

She also pointed to separate studies in Washington County, Southwestern Pennsylvania and Northeastern Pennsylvania indicating that people who live closer to well sites experience a greater incidence of health problems ranging from respiratory and heart symptoms to lower birth weight.

Representatives from the oil and gas drilling industry were invited to testify, but declined to attend.

“This hearing shouldn’t be an argument that pits drillers against preservationists, job creators against environmentalists, and the state’s energy sector against health and community interests,” Boscola said. “To me, our task isn’t about taking sides. It’s about finding a balance.”

Boscola and Wiley were joined on the Senate panel by Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Sen. Jim Brewster (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland).

In addition to Senate committee members, the following took part in the discussion:

  • Erie County Executive Kathy Dahlkepmer
  • Marsha Haley, medical doctor (radiation oncology)
  • Sister Pat Lupo, Benedictine Sisters, Environmental Education and Advocacy of Erie County
  • John Rossi, Pennsylvania State Chapter of the Sierra Club
  • John Walliser, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
  • Ryan Grode, SWPA Environmental Health Project