Report: hundreds of gas wells drilled near schools, hospitals
A state environmental group is calling on lawmakers to restrict natural gas drilling near places people live, learn and work after it released a study Thursday showing hundreds of wells have been planned or drilled next to schools and hospitals.
The study by PennEnvironment found that Marcellus Shale gas wells have been permitted or drilled within two miles of 320 day cares, 67 schools and nine hospitals in the state, putting "our most vulnerable populations at risk," PennEnvironment field director Adam Garber said.
State law restricts drilling within 200 feet of an occupied building regardless of its use, but local and state elected officials have introduced bills and ordinances to expand that buffer.
The PennEnvironment study found that the closest day care is 400 feet from a permitted well site, the closest school is 900 feet away and the closest hospital is half a mile away.
Although the study shows that a school and day care in Lackawanna County are each within two miles of permitted well sites, the permits for those wells expired without drilling taking place.
In Susquehanna County, wells have been drilled on Elk Lake School District property, and another well is permitted within 2,000 feet of a district school. In Wyoming County, Tyler Memorial Hospital is about a mile and a half from the closest permitted well.
The study did not look at the proximity of gas processing plants or compressor stations to schools, day cares and hospitals and it did not take into account traffic violations or accidents involving industry trucks operating near those facilities.
Garber said blowouts and spills at shale wells in the state demonstrate the hazards of the extraction process. A recent blowout of a Chesapeake Energy well in Bradford County that allowed toxic wastewater to reach a waterway was in a remote area, he said.
"God forbid it happen next to an elementary school," he said.
Andrea Mulrine, president of the League of Women Voters of Lackawanna County, said the report should spur legislative action to make sure drilling is done responsibly. "The industry has moved with a lightning pace across the Commonwealth and moved without the appropriate legislation in place at the state, local and county levels," she said. "Legislation has to move faster than it's moving right now."
An industry group panned the report, saying it "fundamentally disregards the facts." The group, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, also questioned the credibility of the report's authors and reviewers.
"It's unfortunate that some activists continue to peddle this kind of misinformation," coalition spokesman Travis Windle said.
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