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Environment & Energy

Allegheny County Health Department Celebrates Fracking Regulatory Victory

The Allegheny County Health Department is celebrating a legislative victory that will allow them to more effectively monitor air and water pollution.

In December, County Council passed a law that requires companies performing hydraulic fracturing within the county to notify the Health Department as each phase of the process begins.

Jim Thompson, deputy director of environmental health, said there are four different phases in the hydraulic fracturing process, and each poses unique environmental risks. The phases are: clearing of the well sites, commencement of drilling, commencement of fracking, and completion, which involves burning off gas that is a safety hazard or is not fit to sell.

“If a particular well pad … is in close proximity to a sensitive population, it gives us a chance to review that and determine whether or not we want to set up additional monitoring to ensure public health or other safeguards that we have available to us,” Thompson said.

Thompson said most fracking occurs in areas where they do not currently monitor air and water quality. He said having the information about what is happening at each site and when will help the department monitor the effects of each phase fracking on the surrounding environment.

Health Department Director Dr. Karen Hacker said the proposed legislation was passed by the Board of Health last spring, and that the new regulation will help the department do its job.

“Up until this point, notification for various milestones in a fracking process, had to go to the state, that was already required, but it wasn’t required to come to us as a county,” Hacker said. “Given that we are responsible for air quality and water quality, we would like to know when these various different things happen.”

Thompson said there are around 50 different fracking wells in Allegheny County.

“The major sites are in Fawn and Frazer Township, (and) Forward Township,” Thompson said. “Obviously the airport site hasn’t come about, but there’s also a site near the airport that Range Resources owns, so those are the major sites that are currently in production.”