Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Down to the wire

As the last days of the West Virginia legislative session tick by, bills under consideration can move quickly and dramatically.

A case in point is the bill to regulate natural gas drilling in the state, which changed rather suddenly in the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, from the more industry-friendly legislation sent over from the Senate, to one that more closely reflected the environmental concerns of the House’s now-abandoned original bill. There will be further action at a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for this morning.

There is excellent coverage of the politics of these maneuvers, by reporter Alison Knezevich, in this morning’s Charleston Gazette.

Another reporter on the Marcellus Shale drilling beat is the New York Times’ Ian Urbina, who has done groundbreaking investigation of the problems associated with the disposal of millions of gallons of wastewater from the hydrofracking process.

His earlier stories about radioactivity in the wastewater—sent to water treatment plants in Pennsylvania, which don’t have the capacity to remove the radioactivity, then released into rivers—has drawn the attention of the federal Environmental Protection Agency, which plans to monitor Pennsylvania’s drinking water more closely.

Here’s a sample of Urbina’s latest article in this series, published Monday:

“Although the state’s river monitor tests said the radioactivity in the water was at safe levels in November and December, public health experts called for broader and continual testing.

‘As long as we are going to allow oil and gas wastewater to enter these streams,’ said Conrad Volz, director of the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh, ‘there needs to be monitoring weekly at least for a whole host of contaminants, including radium, barium, strontium.’

Mr. Volz said that he planned to release on Wednesday [today] the results of water monitoring conducted by his team last December on wastewater discharged from a sewage treatment plant into the Blacklick River.

He said he did not test for radioactivity. But he did test for bromides, strontium, chlorides and other contaminants, and he said he found dangerous levels sometimes more than 10,000 times the safe drinking-water standard.”

--Michael Hasty

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