SB411 would amend the Environmental Good Samaritan Act (EGSA) and extend immunity for those involved in withdrawing Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) in connection with oil and gas operations and other uses offsite. The bill does not promote the reduction and abatement of AMD pollution and does not clean up streams that are presently impacted by AMD. SB411 would incentivize the spread of AMD-polluted water to other streams and watersheds in Pennsylvania and harm streams and communities through the depletion of water supplies and healthy flows in these vulnerable waterways.
SB411 is not an environmentally beneficial bill; it is quite the opposite. It is no more than an attempt to provide immunity to those who do no more than withdraw and sell AMD for a profit and would do nothing to clean up pollution. This undermines the EGSA and its core purpose of facilitating the cleanup of AMD by providing immunity to those entities who are remedying the AMD problem.
Although proponents of SB411 suggest that that bill would reduce the stress on fresh water supplies that are being depleted by water consumptive natural gas development and other depletive applications while also addressing AMD pollution, it actually works at cross purposes on both counts. SB411 does not require the cleanup of AMD. Rather, SB 411 would spread AMD pollution around, and could lead to depletion of healthy stream flows and aquifers through extensive water withdrawals in AMD-impacted areas. In western Pennsylvania waterways without basin commission jurisdiction, over-pumping is even more likely due to lack of a specific body of regulation with established water withdrawal limits; this is also where many AMD problems exist and many residents are dependent on private water wells. The effect would not benefit the state’s residents, water supplies, or environment.
The result of extensive withdrawals could be costly for landowners who lose water supplies or whose water quality is degraded. This is because the bill’s provisions regarding damaged water supplies would force landowners to hire expensive expert analysis just to prove that a water withdrawal company caused damage to their water supply. For instance, extensive water withdrawal from mine pools by the over-pumping of groundwater can cause adjacent clean groundwater to be drawn in, depleting regional water wells and reducing the healthy base flow of local streams. This would deplete drinking water and harm downstream water supplies, fish and aquatic life. Over-withdrawal of groundwater could lead to land subsidence as well, but there is no statutory remedy for subsidence damage, leaving landowners without a remedy against the operator.