John Quigley’s Fracking Legacy in Pennsylvania

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn Friday afternoon, Pennsylvania’s Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection John Quigley announced he was resigning. Criticisms have been launched at him from both polluters and environmentalists throughout his professional life.

His ouster is allegedly due to e-mail communication he initiated with statewide environmental groups he asked to push harder on state legislators who were blocking some environmental reforms in Harrisburg.

Because Quigley was the target of dirty industry and their supporters, it’s expedient for major environmental groups to defend him.

Clean Water Action even said, “Secretary Quigley is a dedicated public servant who worked hard to ensure that Pennsylvania residents have clean water, clean air and a healthy environment. His resignation is a loss for the Commonwealth and the Wolf Administration.”

The facts tell a murkier story about his environmental record, however. Let’s review John Quigley’s career.


(1988-1995) Two Terms as Mayor of Hazleton: A Backdrop


  • John Quigley cites his hometown of Hazleton as a cautionary tale of letting a boom and bust extraction industry, in his case anthracite coal mining, dominate the landscape. Quigley has warned in public presentations that the barons of industry who clearcut, mined, drilled, and abandoned legacy oil and gas wells privatized their profits and socialized their costs. So, John Quigley knows exactly what path not to turn down. (Source: “The Marcellus Play: Pennsylvania’s experience”, John Quigley)


(2009-2011) Secretary of Department of Conservation and Natural Resources


  • All 700,000 acres of state forests that have been leased for fracking were sold or the surface made available while John Quigley served as either Chief of Staff or Secretary of DCNR. John Quigley served as Secretary of DCNR from 2009 to 2011 and as DCNR’s Chief of Staff before that. While he served as Chief of Staff, DCNR sold its first shale gas lease in 2008, which consisted of 74,023 acres, and generated $163 million in revenue. As Secretary, he oversaw two more Pennsylvania state forest lease sales. DCNR’s first lease sale under his direction was held in January 2010, consisted of 31,947 acres, and generated $130 million. His second lease sale occurred in May 2010, consisted of 32,896 acres, and generated $120 million. (Source: Natural Gas Development and State Forests, February 2016 PA DCNR)


(2011 – 2015) Advisor to Citizens for Pennsylvania’s Future (PennFuture)


  • Quigley gave a Powerpoint while consulting for PennFuture warning against everything he was bound to permit as DEP Secretary:


“With a prudent, thoughtful public policy response, shale gas development can be an environmental victory that grows our economy and builds local communities. Whether we achieve that victory is up to all of us.” (Source: “The Marcellus Play: Pennsylvania’s experience”, John Quigley)

“Hydraulic fracturing will dwarf the cumulative impact of all of the previous waves of resource extraction that punctuate Pennsylvania history,” Quigley said, ticking off a list of successive destructive acts that began with the clear-cutting of old growth trees across the state’s northern tier to fuel the Industrial Revolution, then morphed into the drilling of the first oil well in Titusville and the rise of King Coal. “It’s impossible to downplay or avoid the environmental impacts.

“Not only is this going to cause massive habitat fragmentation but what emerges will be a fundamentally different Pennsylvania,” he continued. “The question is, are we going to repeat the mistakes of the past?”

(2015-2016) Secretary of Department of Environmental Protection


Convergence drilling rigWell Permitting (2,510 well permits issued by the Quigley DEP)

  • In the 336 business days that John Quigley served as PA DEP Secretary, his agency permitted 2,510 fracking permits, an average of 7.5 per day, one every 64 minutes the doors were open. All this despite Quigley being more versed in the dangers of shale development than any other top official in Pennsylvania. Link to DEP Permits report:


Water Contamination Cases

  • September 2015, Secretary Quigley was made aware of Public Herald’s 30 month complaint investigation on fracking that detailed how water contamination from unconventional oil and gas drilling was being kept off the books by DEP. The secretary turned down two meetings with journalists and scientists to discuss their findings and address the issues facing homeowner drinking water complaints.
  • The second attempt was made by Public Herald to meet with the Secretary came after JKLM Energy illegally injected chemicals into an aquifer in Potter County, Pa. Dr. Tony Ingraffea had agreed to sit at the table and discuss his ongoing research and how it related to complaint cases, but the Secretary’s office stated he would not have time to meet with the team of journalists or professor Ingraffea.
  • Ironically, in a 2011 slideshow presentation, “The Marcellus Play: Pennsylvania’s experience”, John Quigley wrote in his concluding slide, “What to do? Abundance of caution in protecting irreplaceable water resources is defensible — More study – beyond EPA – is needed — Scientific research on impacts of fracking to groundwater (local and total)”
  • The Quigley DEP issued 27 letters of determination positively identifying oil and gas activities as the culprit for fouled well water in residences. Eleven counties with new contamination cases include Susquehanna, Wyoming, Sullivan, Bradford, Potter, Elk, McKean, Lawrence, Butler, Washington, and Greene. Those are in addition to 251 positive determinations that Quigley inherited. (Source: Water Supply Determination Letters, PA DEP)
  • In September 2015, Public Herald of Potter County, published a report citing nine ways that DEP water contamination cases are “cooked” or shredded, resulting in negative determination letters. One high profile case of a “cooked” water contamination investigation is being heard on appeal, involving the owner of the Tioga Downs Casino and racetrack, Jeffrey Gural, who noticed his foals were sick and asked the DEP to test the water to see if Chesapeake Energy’s operations had caused contamination. One method described by Public Herald for dismissing complaints is,

“The Department or operator cites preexisting or background conditions as reasons for contamination without providing evidence, i.e. predrill test results, to demonstrate a history of water quality problems – or cites no evidence at all.”

On December 28, 2015, the Quigley DEP determined that although the water did not meet statewide health standards,

“Concentrations of iron and manganese above the applicable secondary MCLs are well documented in your area. In Bradford County, the Lock Haven Formation has been observed to produce groundwater containing manganese in excess of 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L), iron in excess of 1 mg/L, and aluminum in excess of 0.2 mg/L. The wells that make up your Water Supply are both likely installed in the Lock Haven Formation.”

The Gurals were not satisfied when the DEP only tested for a limited regime of contaminants and appealed the resulting determination to the Environmental Hearing Board.


No Reparations from Quigley’s Pennvest Board

  • As Secretary of DEP, John Quigley chaired the board of Pennvest, the state’s infrastructure fund, and did not approve any municipal water pipelines to communities impacted by groundwater contamination from drilling activities. In 2010, the Pennvest board allocated $12 million for a water line to serve Dimock families that was supported and then canceled by then-Secretary John Hanger, citing resistance from township officials. With the Dimock water case unresolved and the guidance of John Hanger at hand in the governor’s cabinet, Quigley could have been a champion for Dimock families by building the water line and setting a precedent for municipal water service in similar cases. (Source: “Pa. agency votes to aid owners of contaminated wells”,


Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force

  • In May 2015, Gov. Wolf announced the formation of a 48-member Pipeline Task Force to be chaired by John Quigley. Only two environmental groups were represented on the panel, Pennsylvania’s most conservative: Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Quigley’s own PennFuture. The gas industry was allowed 12 members and no task force member represented the interests of landowners facing eminent domain. (Source: Task Force Membership)
  • Quigley was quoted in a press release, “Over the next decade, we could see the construction of as many as 25,000 miles of gathering lines. These are the lines that connect the wells to the processing stations. We can also expect another 4,000 to 5,000 miles of midstream and transmission pipelines in Pennsylvania. Now is the time for a collaborative conversation among all stakeholders — state, federal and local governments; industry representatives; and environmental and conservation groups.” (Source: “Governor Tom Wolf Creates Task Force on Pipeline Infrastructure Development”)
  • As a result of Quigley’s stated purpose to use the task force to facilitate the construction of thousands of miles of pipeline without any meaningful environmental dissent, a “People’s Task Force” campaign of protests and intense public participation by pipeline and fracking opponents ensued. A mountain of written public comments was submitted and task force meetings were disrupted in protest. In the end, all of the task force’s final recommendations assumed the buildout of gas infrastructure would proceed unheeded and with the liberal use of eminent domain condemnation. (Sources: “The People’s Task Force Pennsylvania – No More Pipelines” [Video], Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force – Final Report [PDF])


Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline

  • Quigley’s DEP issued the Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification for the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline to cross 4,100 acres of land, 333 waterbodies, and 250 wetlands, according to Delaware Riverkeeper Network. Enormous wet ditch crossings are proposed across streams and wetlands from Susquehanna to Lancaster Counties.
  • In New York State, the Department of Environmental Conservation set a precedent by denying the 401 Water Quality Certificate for the Constitution Pipeline, indefinitely stalling the project, which Quigley ignored.
  • Quigley’s Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force even explicitly warned against this danger as one of his “Top Recommendations”, stating “Employ construction methods that reduce environmental impact — Minimize impacts of stream crossings — Use best available combination of technologies to protect exceptional value and high quality waters”


Mariner 2 Pipeline


Screen shot 2015-02-08 at 8.07.35 PMShell Ethane Cracker in Beaver County

  • The Quigley DEP approved the Air Quality Plan Approval for Shell’s controversial ethane cracker plant in Beaver County. The air permit is being appealed to the Environmental Hearing Board by Clean Air Council. The cracker plant, if built, will source ethane from Marcellus and Utica shale wells to be refined into ethylene for plastics manufacturing.
  • The plant is permitted to emit 2,259,466 tons per year of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) which is the same as putting 480,737 typical passenger cars on the road.

Table 5. Health Impacts from Expected Emissions of Air Pollutants

Pollutant Emission limit Tons/year
PM10 164
SO2 22
NOx 327
CO 991
VOC 484
Total Hazardous (HAPs) 41.9


Nitrogen Oxides (NOX) - Short-term exposure (30 mins to 24 hrs) is connected with respiratory inflammation in healthy individuals and increased respiratory symptoms in individuals with asthma. Elevated short-term exposure is connected with ER visits for respiratory issues. NOX contributes to ozone formation.

Particulate pollution — especially fine particles (PM2.5) — can get deep into the lungs and cause serious health problems such as premature death in people with heart or lung disease, heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing.

Sulfur Dioxides (SO2 ) - Short-term exposures ranging from 5 minutes to 24 hours, with an array of adverse respiratory effects including bronchoconstriction and increased asthma symptoms. These effects are particularly important for asthmatics at elevated ventilation rates (e.g., while exercising or playing).

Carbon Monoxide (CO) - 100 tons per year 991 tons per year Impaired oxygen delivery to vital tissues and organs affecting the cardiopulmonary and nervous systems. Immediate symptoms include dizziness, headaches, vomiting, nausea, fatigue, memory and visual impairment, and decreased muscular control.

Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) - Some VOCs can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans. Eye and respiratory tract irritation, headaches, nausea, dizziness, visual disorders, and memory impairment are among the immediate symptoms. VOCs contribute to ozone formation.

Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs) - Cancer, reproductive effects or birth defects, adverse environmental and ecological impacts. May impact human health at low concentrations.

(Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Shell Chemical Appalachia, LLC, Air Quality Plan Approval Application, Petrochemicals Complex, Beaver County, May 2014)


Natural Gas Power Plants in Luzerne & Lackawanna County

  • Moxie Energy and Invenergy are two of many companies that have made aggressive moves into Pennsylvania to build natural gas combined cycle (NGCC) plants. Under John Quigley, both plants were permitted after unprecedented public opposition in Salem Township, Luzerne County (Moxie Freedom, 1,050 megawatts) and Jessup Borough, Lackawanna County (Lackawanna Energy Center, 1,500 megawatts). The EPA Clean Power Plan final rule, which requires states to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 or face federal funding penalties, was published prior to the issuance of both permits.
  • According to their air quality plan approvals, the two fracked gas power plants permitted by the Quigley DEP will emit 4,938,598 tons per year (Lackawanna Energy Center) and 1,828,492 tons per year (Moxie Freedom) of greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent). Combined, that is the equivalent of putting 1,439,806 typical passenger cars on the road.
  • To put that in perspective, if a typical car’s length is 14 feet, you would need 13 lanes for 300 miles of the Pennsylvania Turnpike from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh to fit them all driving while tailgating each other. Both permits were issued after the EPA finalized the Clean Power Plan ordering Pennsylvania to cut our greenhouse gases by 2030. The consequence if we fail? Loss of federal transportation funding for our roads. (Source: “Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle”, EPA)

Potential Emissions from Lackawanna Energy Center, Air Quality Plan Approval

Pollutant Emission limit Tons/year
PM10 387
SO2 40
NOx 305
CO 274
VOC 92
Total Hazardous (HAPs) 23


Potential Emissions from Moxie Freedom, Air Quality Plan Approval

Pollutant Emission limit Tons/year
PM10 118
SO2 33
NOx 215
CO 218
VOC 78
Fluoride 6.30
Total Hazardous (HAPs) 15.30


Act 13 & Local Governance

  • 10959676_908714622506997_1250932691410151103_n (1)Outside of public office, John Quigley and Tom Wolf argued against PA Act 13’s restrictions on the use of municipal zoning to site gas infrastructure, including compressor stations. In Milford Township, Pike County and Forks Township, Northampton County, community members have appealed compressor stations permitted in residential and agricultural zones by Columbia Gas Pipeline Co., a subsidiary of Transcanada.
  • The townships’ zoning codes call for planning commission hearings and approval by the board of supervisors for any industrial uses outside of industrial zones. In both Environmental Hearing Board appeals, Quigley’s DEP Counsel has argued in favor of the company that zoning approval was not needed because the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s authority supersedes that of municipalities, contradicting Wolf campaign promises the PA Supreme Court ruling in 2014 that Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution affords townships that right.
  • In the case of the Easton Compressor Station (Forks Township), the Quigley DEP issued the final Air Quality Plan Approval without proper township zoning reviews.
  • In the case of the Milford Compressor Station appeal, Columbia Gas filed a Motion to Dismiss and Quigley DEP counsel authored a brief in support, but was denied by EHB Judge Labuskes after residents argued there should have been consent of local governments included in the permitting.


Compressor Station Best Available Control Technology (BACT) Not Required

  • In both the Milford and Easton compressor station cases, the Quigley DEP did not require and refuses to admit that EPA Natural Gas Star technologies should have been required. According to the PA Air Pollution Control Act, our stricter version of the Clean Air Act, best available control technologies (BACT) must be reviewed for every new source.
  • In the case of Milford and Easton, electric compressors and re-injection of blowdown gases during maintenance into interconnected pipelines was not considered, despite overwhelming public comment in support of those technologies. Both technologies are listed in the EPA Natural Gas Star program as feasible, field-tested alternatives to eliminate exhaust from combustion turbines and raw gas venting.
  • The Quigley DEP has argued in both Environmental Hearing Board appeals that BACT is not required and/or not feasible, accepting Columbia Gas’ manufacturer specifications without further investigation into technology on the market and recommended by EPA.


Alex Lotorto is Shale Gas Program Coordinator for Energy Justice Network. This piece also includes contributions by Joshua Pribanic of Public Herald.