Natural Gas Bills Reintroduced to Protect Pennsylvanians and Create Jobs

U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Chairman of the Joint Economic Committee, today reintroduced three bills designed to protect Pennsylvanians and create Pennsylvania jobs.  The bills would increase disclosure and regulation of chemicals that could enter Pennsylvania’s drinking water supply, improve safety for workers and emergency response procedures at drilling sites and promote job training to help give Pennsylvania workers the skills needed to get jobs in the natural gas industry so that workers are not shipped in from out-of-state.

“Natural gas drilling offers Pennsylvania tremendous economic opportunities if we do it right,” said Senator Casey.  “Pennsylvanians have a right to know the chemicals used in fracking that could make their way into drinking water and other water sources.  Emergency response and worker safety at well sites must continue to improve.  And more must be done to ensure that jobs in the fracking industry go to Pennsylvanians and not workers from out-of-state.” 

Hydraulic fracturing – also known as “fracking”, which is used in almost all oil and gas wells, is a process whereby fluids are injected at high pressure into underground rock formations to blast them open and increase the flow of fossil fuels.   Fracking is used in areas of Pennsylvania where natural gas is being drilled from Marcellus Shale. 

This injection of unknown and potentially toxic chemicals often occurs near drinking water wells.  Three million Pennsylvanians are dependent on private wells for water.  Some chemicals that are known to have been used in fracking include diesel fuel, benzene, industrial solvents and other carcinogens and endocrine disrupters.

The FRAC Act -- Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act -- amends the Safe Drinking Water Act.  The legislation would repeal a Bush administration exemption provided for the oil and gas industry and would require them to disclose the chemicals they use in their hydraulic fracturing processes.  Specifically, the bill would require disclosure of chemical additives added to water used in fracking to State agencies, which will then be made public on a website.  It further requires oil and gas companies to disclose proprietary information about those additives to medical professionals if that information is needed for medical treatment.  This information would have to be disclosed prior to and after fracking.

The FRAC Act is cosponsored by Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).  Rep. Diana DeGette is introducing the FRAC Act in the House.

As the number of Marcellus Shale well-sites continues to increase, we need to ensure the jobs are going to Pennsylvanians.  That is why Senator Casey is reintroducing the Marcellus Shale On-the-Job Training Act of 2010 to authorize grants to strengthen the On-the-Job Training programs to help ensure natural gas drilling jobs go to Pennsylvanians and not workers from out-of-state.  Senator Casey supported a $4.9 million grant awarded to Westmoreland County Community College announced in June 2010 for community-based job training in the natural gas drilling and production industry.  The funding was available through the Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration’s Community-Based Job Training Grant program.

On-the-Job Training is a program authorized under the Workforce Investment Act.  The main purpose of the program is to allow an employer to sign a contract with the local workforce investment board (WIB), agreeing to hire workers that need on-site training.  The WIB provides a training subsidy to the employer equal to a percentage of the wage paid to the employee.  The subsidy is typically 50% of the wage paid.  The period of the contract is limited to the time it takes to properly train the employee.

Senator Casey's Faster Action Safety Team Emergency Response (FASTER) Act provides the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) with the ability to draft regulations that will enhance emergency response procedures at oil and gas wells.  Specifically, the Act provides OSHA the power to draft regulations that will require operators to:

• Have an employee, knowledgeable in responding to emergency situations, present at the well at all times during the exploration or drilling phase;

• Make available a certified response team, within three hours of ground travel time, if an emergency situation arises;

• Contact local first responders within 30 minutes of the commencement of an emergency situation;

• Contact OSHA within 1 hour of the commencement of an emergency situation;

• Contact the National Response Center within 1 hour of the commencement of an emergency situation;

• Provide communication technology at the well site (e.g., mobile communication or satellite phone);

• Provide annual training to local first responders on the hazards of a well site and proper emergency response techniques; and

• File an annual report with OSHA that names the certified response team assigned to each well of the operator.

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