By Daniel Doubet
May 22, 2018
Pennsylvania's constitution reads: "The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment."
Yet, presently, the natural gas extraction industry is literally setting fire to public resources, and deny the public a fair share of resources.
The former Obama administration put in place a rule that requires extractors of methane, oil and gas to capture methane emission, fix leaky equipment to capture the gas and keep it from needlessly escaping into the environment. This does two things: prevents the waste of a limited, public resource and ensures royalties are paid in full to the public.
Additionally, this rule cuts pollution and protects the air we all breathe.
Some states already have rules to control methane natural gas waste, however air pollution doesn't stop at borders. With no federal rule to require gas be consistently captured rather than flared, vented, or leaked, all of our air is at risk, while putting the financial and other costs on everyday people.
In the last five years alone the extraction industry has burned almost $2 billion worth of publicly owned natural gas, costing millions in lost royalties and tax revenue.
They're burning our money right in front of us while needlessly allowing poison into the air. This fuel isn't keeping people warm, or returning revenues to taxpayers for industry's destructive practices, it's burned off, leaked and wasted.
The environmental and health impacts of all extraction are terrible. But the revenues generated from extraction are used to fund a wide array of local projects, such as infrastructure, recreational opportunities, public health services, education, and wildlife conservation.
In an era of trillion-dollar budget deficits, burning away public resources and tax dollars is an outrage. The extraction industry inherently does damage to people and the planet with every project, pays nowhere close to their fair share in taxes, and the practice of methane flaring demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the stewardship of the very resource they extract. At least the Obama-era rule puts the most rudimentary standard to extractors: to pull noxious fuels from the ground, they are required not to waste any and that all royalties and taxes are paid.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wants to roll back this rule, of course, because his mandate is to maximize the profits of the extraction industry, despite all evidence that capturing this gas is easy and cost-effective.
Moreover Zinke willfully ignores that the 2016 rule was the result of multi-year collaborative planning efforts - numerous hearings and meetings were held with industry, tribes, and the public. Zinke proposes to gut the rule without holding a single public hearing and despite the more than 400,000recently collected public comments in opposition.
The Trump administration operates at the will and whim of the oil and gas extraction industry to maximize profits, while the public will be left to deal with debts and destruction left in their wake. Pennsylvania's constitution be damned.
Daniel Doubet is the executive director of Keystone Progress, a progressive advocacy group. He writes from Camp Hill.