Dave Hess (former DEP Secretary) writes a blog. In an article about PA’s declining rural population Hess writes that much of PA’s conventional and unconventional oil and gas production occurs in the rural PA counties where the population is projected to decline. Then Hess writes this: “The fact is agriculture and outdoor recreation are Pennsylvania’s biggest industries and they both depend on a clean environment.”
Hess’ dirty implication is that conventional and unconventional oil and gas is “unclean” and that the oil and gas industries are the cause of PA’s projected rural decline.
That’s a sly lie: The truth is that PA’s rural areas host the cleanest water and air in the state. Take the 500,000 acre Allegheny National Forest (ANF) in northwest rural PA, where over 12,000 privately owned conventional oil and gas wells are located. Of the 2,126 miles of mapped streams within the ANF proclamation boundary (an area of 720,000 acres) fully 72% are rated as high quality or exceptional value for water quality. Moreover, in its 2007 Environmental Impact Statement, the Forest Service characterized the water quality in the ANF as “among the highest in the state.
In November 2014 the US Forest released its five-year Monitoring and Evaluation Report for the ANF for the period from 2008 through 2013. It focuses on oil and gas development during that period. The 2014 ANF Monitoring Report concludes that “The majority of streams on the ANF are meeting state water quality standards. Impairments are most frequently related to acid deposition or acidity from natural sources.” Of particular note is the Clarion University study undertaken to compare the results of oil and gas development on benthic macroinvertebrate communities in a high development watershed as compared to a very low to no-development watershed. The study reviewed detailed data from a 2010 survey as well as results of studies conducted in the early 1980’s, 1990s, and 2008. The Report concluded that these macroinvertebrate studies “...did not detect a negative impact to water quality from this (oil and gas) development”.
In addition to the sly lie, Hess fails to mention that PA’s natural resource businesses struggle under constant attack by environmental extremists…like Hess. It’s no surprise that rural counties struggle in PA—industry was shipped off to China twenty years ago leaving natural resource businesses as the major employers. Out of one side of his mouth Hess wants to close those natural resource companies; out of the other side Hess wants to shout about the sadness of rural population decline. We’d prefer that Hess just tell the truth.