PennEnvironment on Marcellus Advisory Committee: Been There, Done That

For Immediate Release

Statement of Erika Staaf, PennEnvironment Clean Water Advocate, regarding Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee report:

“After four months of meetings, Gov. Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission on July 22 released its 137-page report and recommendations, showing the public what everyone expected—the commission’s recommendations are the same as the policies debated and discussed for the past two years, proving that the commission served as nothing but a stalling tactic that put the important work of addressing Marcellus Shale gas drilling back more than six months.

From day one, advocates who have been working tirelessly to address the environmental harm and health threats posed by Marcellus Shale gas drilling stated that they would be surprised if the commission came up with policy handles or facts not already part of the Marcellus Shale policy dialogue. On Friday, July 22nd, the commission’s members delivered in 137 pages what most of us expected—that the policies are those already being discussed in Harrisburg daily.

In fact, many of these recommendations were addressed in a 2009 PennEnvironment report, and included the need for greater enforcement, a drilling tax, and a greater right to know about chemicals used in the hydraulic fracturing process, just to name a few. It’s disappointing that the best the commission could do was to regurgitate facts like these that were already had at the fingertips of the public and decision makers.

At the same time, the process made sure that any proposals would be a foregone conclusion.  By creating a commission stacked with powerful special interests that have a vested financial interest in the commission’s outcome, the Governor did an injustice to this important issue.

In terms of actually regulating the gas industry in Pennsylvania, we are in the same position today as we were this time last year – sadly the only difference is the number of gas drilling accidents and violations of environmental laws continued and valuable time was lost. Many of our legislators are eager to tackle this important issue but were clearly hamstrung by this commission’s drawn-out process.

Some of the commission’s most egregious and special interest driven recommendations include:

  •     Pushing for further drilling on lands owned by the people of Pennsylvania: our pristine state forestland;
  •     Promoting forced pooling, essentially eminent domain for private gain. When people do not have the ability to control how they choose to use their private property, we’ve repealed one of the cornerstone American concepts;
  •     Steamrolling local control and decision making by pushing for carte blanche ability to override local zoning ordinances meant to protect public health and our environment, and keep drilling in check.

While some recommendations take positive steps to protect our environment, most are not strong enough to ensure future protection of our waterways, drinking water supplies, air quality, and publicly-owned lands when compared to the laundry list of rollbacks proposed. PennEnvironment is encouraged to see the commission’s support for increasing drilling setbacks from waterways and structures, extending the drilling operators’ presumed liability for pollution, levying an impact fee, and increasing penalties for drillers that violate environmental or other laws, yet believes that each of these recommendations ultimately needs to be stronger than those proposed in the report.

In the end, the devil will be in the details: much will depend on which recommendations become legislation or proposed regulations, and the exact the language used. Moreover, we know that from the ongoing political debate in Harrisburg that the gas drilling industry expects a quid pro quo that might leave the public with a modest step forward – such as an impact fee or agreed-upon best management practices for drillers – but several steps backward in truly protecting our environment, especially if the industry gets its way and can steamroll local zoning and implement forced pooling.

PennEnvironment is calling on legislators to stand up to industry and do whatever it takes to make meaningful progress to protect our drinking water, clean air, public lands and public health from the dangers of drilling, including issuing a meaningful drilling tax, prohibiting drilling on state lands, strengthening Pennsylvania’s clean water, clean air and land protection laws, protecting landowner and community rights, revising the Oil and Gas Act, improving the public’s right to know, increasing resources for state environmental regulators.”