MIDDLESEX TWP — A parent is incensed that the latest revisions to state oil and gas drilling regulations do not include a specific setback for drilling near school buildings.
Crystal Yost of Middlesex Township is a founding member of the Mars parent group that opposes unconventional gas drilling activities near the Mars schools, a member of Moms Clean Air Force, and a steering committee member of the Protect our Children Coalition.
Yost said the revisions to Chapter 78 in the state Department of Environmental Protection code, which establishes regulations for oil and gas drilling in the state, do not include an increased school setback even though the DEP received more than 5,500 comments calling for a significant separation between schools and gas drilling activities to be included in the revisions.
“Putting wells near schools creates an obvious safety risk,” Yost said. “After all, how do you evacuate hundreds, if not thousands, of students from the scene of a well fire or explosion in a timely way?”
Yost said the Protect Our Children Coalition in April launched a campaign calling on the DEP to impose a minimum separation of one mile between any school and gas drilling activities.
Neil Shader, DEP spokesman, said the agency does not have the legal authority to institute such a request.
“We can’t establish anything more stringent than what is in Act 13,” Shader said.
Act 13 is the state law regarding gas and oil drilling that was signed in February 2012 by former Gov. Tom Corbett.
Shader said the new Chapter 78 revisions require drillers to give “consideration” to schools, playgrounds, churches and other public entities during the permitting process in developing a shale gas well.
Shader said while a well pad permit cannot be denied because of these entities, the new section allows the DEP to set conditions for drilling activity such as specifying the times of year or day when drilling activities can occur or where on a property a well pad is located.
He said existing regulations include setbacks of 150 feet from any building, and 200 feet from school property.
Drillers also must notify a school district before the they apply to the DEP for a well permit that a well is being developed nearby, Shader said.
Drillers must have emergency response plans in place for schools, churches and other large gathering places, he said.
Yost is passionate about establishing a significant setback from schools in part because as a child in Parkersburg, W.Va., her family was exposed to a chemical called C8. The chemical came from the nearby DuPont plant.
It was later learned that C8 can cause medical conditions and illnesses, including cancer. Yost and hundreds of others still receive regular cancer screenings because of the exposure, and it’s all paid by the DuPont Corp.
Yost said she suffered pre-eclampsia during her pregnancies, which is one of the conditions associated with C8, and she had childhood friends with tear duct malformations and testicular cancer at age 18.
Yost fears a similar situation with the chemicals and fumes associated with shale gas drilling could occur and affect her children and the thousands more who live, play and go to school near wells.
“Constant exposure to toxins in the air and water near wells poses a silent risk of health and developmental issues that may not present themselves for years,” Yost said.
She said she will not stop advocating for students.
“We will continue to press for a separation if these new rules are finalized,” Yost said. “Children need and deserve a healthy environment. Their needs come before those of the gas industry.”