Emergency preparedness and response is an obvious necessity for residents living near wells, compressor stations, and other activities related to unconventional oil and gas development (UOGD, or “fracking”). An emergency situation arising from a spill, explosion, or other crisis can impact health, threaten natural resources, or require evacuation.
Because many UOGD operations are located in remote rural locations, emergency responders and residents may encounter special challenges when responding to emergencies. Potential problems include inadequate communication with residents, insufficiently trained first responders, and lengthy response times as communities wait for out-of-town well-fire specialists to arrive.
In Southwestern Pennsylvania, well-fire experts Wild Well Control are sometimes contracted to resolve UOGD emergency situations using their special training and equipment. Talk with your local officials to determine how emergencies are handled in your community.
Want more specifics on how a UOGD emergency is handled? Read an After Action Review (AAR) of a real-life well fire emergency here.
What You Can Do
While the idea of a UOGD-related emergency occurring in your community may be unsettling, there are steps you can take to be prepared and protected.
1. Be Prepared
There are many resources (see our Want to Learn More? section) to help you prepare for an emergency. All residents should have an emergency kit, create an emergency plan, and stay informed.
2. Know Your Rights
The federal Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act of 1986 (EPCRA) helps communities plan for emergencies involving hazardous substances by establishing roles for industry, government, residents, and emergency responders. Residents have the right to engage with safety personnel about potentially harmful industrial activity in their communities, both through open records (also called “Right-to-Know”) requests and public meetings with local emergency planners.
- To obtain information about emergency response plans and the use of hazardous materials in your area, you can file a request called a Right-to-Know request, though there is no guarantee that the information requested is available and/or will be released. You can submit a Right-to-Know request to your local municipal open records officer by mail, email, or in person.
- Residents are also encouraged to contact their local emergency responders and attend Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) meetings. In addition to holding public meetings, the LEPC is responsible for coordinating training for first responders and providing information about hazardous chemicals being used in the community (though many chemicals used in UOGD or “fracking” are protected as private information and not publicly available).
3. Ask Questions
If you do attend a Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) or other community meeting related to UOGD-related emergency response and preparedness, the questions below prepared by EHP may be helpful in guiding your discussion:
- What does the county have in place for natural gas emergency training?
- Are tabletop exercises (discussion-based sessions) for emergency situations held? How often?
- Have local first responders attended a training session?
- Have first responders visited a well site, compressor station, and processing plant?
- Do all first responders know where pipelines are located and at what PSI they operate?
- Are trainings paid for by the natural gas companies or by tax dollars? Do tax dollars pay for the LEPC?
- Are Hazardous Material Emergency Response Preparedness Reports public information? Where can one access them?
- Do LEPCs have access to proprietary chemical information at every site? Is this information communicated to local first responders?
- Section 324 of SARA Title III states that “each emergency plan shall be made available to the general public during normal working hours.” What can you tell us about the local emergency plans?
- What hospitals/schools/daycares are within a 1-mile radius each drill pad, compressor station, processing plant? Do you have contact information for all?
- How would you conduct an evacuation at a school or hospital in our community? Is there sufficient transportation to conduct an evacuation?
- What is your method for disseminating information to residents should an evacuation be necessary?
4. Contact EHP
For help understanding your rights or finding local resources, contact EHP at info [at] environmentalhealthproject.org.