On October 25, Governor Tom Corbett signed into law Senate Bill 941 (sponsored by Jake Corman), which increased the maximum fines for public drunkenness and underage drinking from $500 to $1000. Demonstrating the hard-nosed commitment to law enforcement he displayed during the twenty-three months he investigated the Jerry Sandusky case, Governor Corbett noted that the legislation reflects his philosophy that “justice, in order to work, must be administered with firmness, compassion and common sense.” Senator Corman hopes that the bill will provide “a deterrent so that the individual makes better decisions the next time around.”
While on the topic of deterrents, perhaps the legislature and Governor Corbett could use the same strategy to address another problem. Despite the slowdown in gas production, the DEP website suggests that the natural gas drillers aren’t doing any better at obeying the laws designed to protect the state’s environment. A quick glance at the records of three companies in 2012 reveals the following incidents.
On January 18 Range Resources spilled 30 gallons of diesel onto the ground at a site in Washington County. A week later at a Range site in Centre County, three barrels (126 gallons) of treated flowback fluid were allowed to escape into the groundwater under the well pad.
On February 1, Andarko spilled 200 gallons of triethylene glycol onto the containment area and the ground at a Clinton County site. Three weeks later, on February 23, hydraulic fluid from a truck at an Anadarko site seeped into a drainage ditch in Clinton County.
On January 18, Enerplus spilled 30 barrels of drilling fluid at a Clinton County site; ten barrels (420 gallons) made it to the ground. On August 24, Enerplus released treated flowback fluid onto a Clinton County roadway with drainage to a wetland.
According to the DEP website, these repeat offenders were not fined a single dollar for any of these incidents. But this shouldn’t be surprising. Citizens for Pennsylvania’s future has reported that during the first three months of Governor Corbett’s administration enforcement actions dropped from the Rendell administration’s ratio of one enforcement for every 1.7 violations to one enforcement for every 8.69 violations. Likewise, Clean Water Action of Pennsylvania has analyzed 2011 DEP violation records and found that 9 out of 10 violations resulted in no penalties whatsoever.
In fairness to the Governor and Senator Corman, I suspect that underage drinkers and public drunkards have not been as generous as the drilling companies have. According to marcellusmoney.org, Senator Corman has received $91,290 from the gas industry, which is overshadowed by the $1,813,305 that has been given to the Governor. Who would dispute that the gas companies have earned the right to be left alone while they are poisoning our state?
But at least we no longer have to worry about 18-year-olds spilling 12 ounces of beer in our state forests.
Bob Myers is a Professor of English and Director of Environmental Studies at Lock Haven University