The Board of Directors of the PA Association for Sustainable Agriculture recently adopted a policy statement on the topic of unconventional natural gas extraction after considering comments from the organization’s members and supporters.
Since PASA formed in 1992, the Board of Directors has developed formal position statements on specific policy issues of relevance to agriculture, with an aim to supporting sustainable farms and food systems.
Other policy statements in the past have focused on topics such as concentration of the agricultural industry, food safety, the National Animal Identification System, and more recently, genetically modified crops and livestock.
PASA’s mission, as reflected in such policy statements, is to support profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment.
PASA struggled with the issue of unconventional natural gas extraction, involving long horizontal drilling and hydro-fracturing, or “fracking,” for a long time before arriving at this policy statement.
“I’m sure many folks will consider this statement to be ‘too little, too late,’” said PASA Executive Director Brian Snyder. “But we really wanted to get this right, considering the needs and interests of our members on all sides of this critical issue, while also firmly adhering to our mission,” he added.
The PASA board is hopeful that the statement can serve to rally interest in examining the natural gas extraction industry more closely at a time when lower prices have also raised questions about its economic feasibility.
The text of the policy statement follows:
PASA asserts its position in favor of a moratorium on unconventional gas extraction, until it is determined that this practice will not impair the ability of farms to profitably produce healthy food while respecting Pennsylvania’s air quality, water resources and the natural environment. PASA supports:
-- Assuring the highest quality of life for the farming community and the environment in all aspects of natural gas extraction through unbiased, third party studies of the long-term impacts. These studies must assess the impacts on the environment and public health, including an in-depth look at the integrity, health and long term sustainability of our food supply.
-- Establishing baselines, parameters, and comprehensive third party testing of water resources, soil health, air quality and human and animal welfare prior to and after extraction procedures.
-- Requiring drilling companies to post a bond which is held in escrow in their name, payable with interest in the event that there are no negative environmental consequences 5 years after capping the well, to be determined by a certified third party engineer.
-- Developing and moving towards a comprehensive sustainable and renewable energy plan that encourages conservation of our natural resources.
-- Enabling the farming community’s input in decision making regarding the location of natural gas facilities and related pipelines.
-- Requiring fairness and transparency in all stages of exploration, leasing, drilling and production, and recognition and respect of landowners' rights, including those who do not own subsurface rights. Full disclosure creates trust between landowners, energy companies and land aggregators, and needs to be addressed before additional wells are drilled.
-- Full accountability and fairness in remediation for any negative environmental and/or economic loss to farmers.
PASA recognizes its mission extends far beyond the edge of field and pasture. This work encompasses the development of and education around healthy food systems for both urban and rural communities. Unconventional gas drilling affects local farmers and farms, the food they produce, and the consumers who eat it.
We therefore urge the Governor and Legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to use this moratorium to ensure that the above issues have been addressed and resolved, and to re-evaluate the safety of methods used in natural gas extraction and its potential threat to our watersheds, food safety and the quality of life of farmers.
PASA continues to provide educational programming to support sustainable agriculture practices resulting in economically viable farms. We are committed to maintaining an organization that protects food systems by focusing on our mission of promoting profitable farms that produce healthy food for all people while respecting the natural environment.