In the 15 years that the gas industry has extracted natural gas from the Marcellus Shale, it has become clear that many companies consider fines for environmental damage to be a fundamental cost of doing business.
And in their zeal to nurture the industry, state legislators mostly have gotten out of its way.
They have established a web of subsidies to promote gas development while refusing to fairly tax gas extraction and failing to establish industrial best practices as the state’s basic regulatory standard.
The result is a wide range of behavior by companies engaged in various aspects of the process, including drillers/frackers and pipeline companies.
Another result is the suite of criminal charges that state Attorney General Josh Shapiro has brought against the Texas-based Energy Transfer LP, developer and operator of the Mariner East 2 pipeline, at the recommendation of a grand jury.
The partially developed pipeline is meant to carry natural gas liquids from the Marcellus Shale gas field in Western Pennsylvania about 350 miles to a refinery on the Delaware River in Mercer County, New Jersey.
The charges contend that the company — which already has been fined more than $20 million since 2017 — used unapproved additives in drilling fluids, and fouled streams, wetlands and private property at 22 sites across 11 counties and failed to report the spills. According to Shapiro, pollutants from the pipeline contaminated drinking water used by 150 families along the route.
Convictions on the new charges likely would result in further fines against the company.
But, given that the charges were filed after the company already had paid $20 million in fines, Shapiro obviously is correct in asserting that the charges are not enough to ensure public safety near gas fields and along pipeline routes.
Pipelines are the safest means to transport volatile gas and its byproducts, which otherwise move through heavily populated areas by truck and train.
But the Legislature should stop rolling over for the industry and devise a regulatory regime that begins with best practices and severely penalizes those who endanger the public — including prosecution of individuals for multiple company offenses.
— Wilkes-Barre Citizens’ Voice