Fracking and the Pennsylvania Midterm Election
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Next week, Pennsylvanians will elect a new governor and members for the U.S. and state Senate and House. The ramifications of the 2022 Pennsylvania midterm election are big, with control over the U.S. Senate hinging on the race between Dr. Mehmet Oz (R) and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman (D). The governor’s race between Attorney General Josh Shapiro (D) and Senator Doug Mastriano (R) is also at the center of national attention, with the winner of that race stepping into a great deal of power, including the responsibility of appointing a new secretary of the Commonwealth and directors of state agencies, like the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and the Department of Health.
Our State Government and Fracking
The new public officials who are appointed as a result of the Pennsylvania midterm election will also take part in determining the direction of the fracking industry in Pennsylvania—and the country for that matter, given that Pennsylvania is the second largest gas producing state in the U.S.
It was just last week that Pennsylvania lawmakers passed a $1.97 billion package of tax credits to support the gas industry, which is now under review by Governor Wolf. The proposal grants tax credits to the petrochemical, fertilizer, hydrogen, and other industries that use fracked gas as feedstock or energy. Many state leaders, with the fossil fuel and steel industry’s support, are priming the region to become a hydrogen energy hub (falling on the heels of many other ambitious plans for “hubs” to transform the regional economy, with a somewhat low success rate).
On the other hand, new elected officials could also fight for greater public health and climate protections, like setbacks, to distance polluting infrastructure from communities. New administrations could impact regulation to combat climate change, like the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), and promote renewable energy production.
At the same time, many of the decisions about fracking happen at the local level. Local ordinances impact where fracking can occur, which is why voting in local elections and showing up to local and county meetings is of vital importance. Our Pennsylvania Shale Viewer is one tool you can take to your local officials to discuss your concerns about fracking. Not only does this map show the locations of oil and gas wells in the state, it also shows violations associated with these wells.
FracTracker’s Updated Pennsylvania Shale Viewer
This interactive map looks at oil and gas wells in Pennsylvania.
View the map “Details” tab below in the top right corner to learn more and access the data, or click on the map to explore the dynamic version of this data. Data sources are also listed at the end of this article.
In order to turn layers on and off in the map, use the Layers dropdown menu. This tool is only available in Full Screen view.
Items will activate in this map dependent on the level of zoom in or out.
We updated the Pennsylvania Shale Viewer map on October 25, 2022. The map shows 13,774 drilled unconventional wells (based on spud date records, which refers to the date the well was drilled). The map also includes 194,447 conventional wells from the state’s database, with 95,929 of them listed as “active.” Many of those active wells were drilled decades ago, however, and need to be plugged. Most new wells are drilled using unconventional technology (aka fracking), and unconventional wells produce the vast majority of gas in the state.
Figure 1. This graph shows the number of unconventional wells permitted and drilled (based on spud date records) on the left hand vertical axis, and production of shale gas on the right-hand vertical axis. Wells permitted and wells drilled are from the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and production data comes from the Energy Information Administration.
*2022: January 2022 – October 25, 2022
**Production: Production values are based on gross withdrawals from shale gas wells, as determined by the Energy Information Administration
Production continues to grow, reaching record levels as the cumulative number of wells in the state increases. But despite these high numbers, the rate of permitting and drilling new wells has declined over the past six years, and is way below the peak drilling days in the early 2010s (Figure 1).
New wells in Pennsylvania demand more and more resources to produce the same amount of gas. Water usage per well, for example, has grown significantly in recent years, from an average of 5.8 million gallons per well in 2013 to over 14.3 million gallons per well in 2019. This is a glimpse into the industry’s significant resource demands and decreasing energy returned on investment.
In the meantime, renewable energy production and use has expanded in Pennsylvania, but it still makes up a small slice relative to fossil fuels. According to the Energy Information Administration, in 2020, a little under 1% of the energy produced in the state came from renewables (specifically non-combustible renewables, which include hydroelectric, geothermal, solar, and wind). When it comes to consumption, the number is slightly higher, with about 1.6% of the energy consumed in Pennsylvania coming from noncombustible renewables, and around 3.7% from biomass, and 19% from nuclear.
How Fracking Impacts Us
The buildout of the fracking industry has come at the expense of many Pennsylvanians. Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies have backed the experiences of frontline communities, finding that living near fracking sites is associated with illnesses including asthma, low birth weights and other adverse birth outcomes, headaches, fatigue, and mental health symptoms.
Data from state regulators also show a clear pattern of inherent risks associated with fracking.Oil and gas wells have racked up over 63,000 violations, and the Department of Environmental Protection has found 392 cases of oil and gas activities impacting a private water supply, from 2007 through 2022. Communities like Dimock, Pennsylvania that faced devastating impacts from drilling at the start of the fracking boom are still dependent on alternative sources of water and facing new impacts that come downstream of drilling, like treatment of fracking waste.
State regulators and leaders have not taken action to protect communities facing these impacts. A 2020 statewide Grand Jury report found that the Department of Health and the Department of Environmental Protection failed to respond to health and environmental impacts of fracking.
The Take Away
Fracking is one of many issues on our minds as voters send in their ballots and head to the polls next week for the Pennsylvania midterm election. But whether or not it’s at the top of our lists of concerns, our state leaders have a lot to prove when it comes to protecting communities on the frontlines of the fracking industry and boosting the state’s action on climate change.
References & Where to Learn More
- FracTracker’s Oil and Gas 101
- FracTracker’s A Guide to Petrochemicals
- Environmental Health Project: 7 Questions You Should Ask Every Candidate about Shale Gas Development
- Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA): Pennsylvania content
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