Public discusses oil and gas concerns at panel

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Cynthia Walter raised a milk carton while almost raising the roof.


“I’m here because of the words ‘environmental quality,’” said the Greensburg resident, speaking before a small group of state Department of Environmental officials.


“OK, maybe these regulations are a bit of a burden, but look what we have to preserve,” she said, hoisting the empty container for emphasis. “Pennsylvania is fourth in the nation in milk production. If wastewater is stored in above-ground pits, this is at risk.


“I know you people care about milk and drinking water, so I encourage you to make these regulations stronger.”


Walter was one of the more animated and convincing speakers Wednesday night at a public hearing to gather testimony on proposed oil and gas regulations. It was organized by the state Environmental Quality Board, an independent panel chaired by DEP Secretary Chris Abruzzo, and lasted more than four hours in Washington & Jefferson College’s Rossin Campus Center.


The board is seeking input – and getting a lot of it – on the proposed regulations, which would implement key provisions of Act 13 of 2012. The regulations include the impact on public resources, such as parks and wildlife areas, spill prevention, waste management, restoration of well sites after drilling and identifying and monitoring abandoned wells close to proposed well sites.


This was the sixth of nine public hearings being held statewide over 90 days, the most ambitious series the EQB, a 20-member panel, has scheduled. Two more sites were added yesterday and the time frame extended to March 14.


Those planning to speak at a hearing are encouraged to reserve time, and others may submit comments via mail and email. DEP spokesman John Poister said about 1,000 Pennsylvanians have sent written or electronic comments, and about 40 registered to speak at W&J. Ten signed up at the door and had to address EQB and the audience last.


Each of the 52 presenters Wednesday had five minutes to express concerns, opinions and recommendations. Some were from the oil and gas industry, some from environmental groups and some were simply engaged and concerned citizens of Western Pennsylvania.


And on an arctic night in downtown Washington, a number of them ratched up the heat on the DEP.


Raina Rippel, director of the Peters Township-based Southwest Pennsylvania Environmental Health Project, was the first speaker – and not the last to focus on water.


“There is a significant concern about water, the potential of chemicals leaking into the ground,” she said. referring to underground storage tanks. She also cited reported cases of respiratory, dermatological and intestinal concerns.


Robert Donnan of McMurray broached that subject as well, saying, “I encourage the state to be more transparent to the citizens of Pennsylvania than industry. I want full test results of water to be available to the public.”


Judy Hughes of Lawrence, speaking for the League of Women Voters, urged the DEP to be vigilant in its oversight. “The Constitution guarantees our right to clean air, pure water and the preservation of our natural resources.”


For more information, visit www.dep.state.pa.us and click “Proposed Oil and Gas Regulations.”


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