Shale advisory panel holds first meeting
BY ROBERT SWIFT
The governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission began its work Friday with many members touting the future economic promise of plentiful natural gas reserves and a handful calling for more state regulation of gas drilling operations.
The 30-member commission is charged with developing a comprehensive plan to guide development of Pennsylvania’s extensive Marcellus Shale gas deposits into the next century.
Facing a four-month deadline to complete its work, commission members gave their own personal assessments about the opportunities and challenges of developing the Marcellus Shale reserves.
Northeastern Pennsylvania got its first seat at the commission table with the arrival of Richard J. Allan, just nominated by Gov. Tom Corbett to head the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. A commercial recycler, Allan has longstanding ties to Luzerne County and environmental groups in the region.
Asked about his providing a Northeast perspective to the commission’s work, Allan declined comment.
The commission includes Corbett cabinet secretaries, representatives from the drilling industry, including Chesapeake Energy and Chief Oil & Gas, and leaders of several environmental groups and local government associations.
An upbeat assessment of Marcellus Shale’s potential benefits was offered by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the commission chairman.
“I see a Pennsylvania where phrases like ‘brain drain’ and ‘rust belt’ are things of the past,” he said.
Many commission members used a catchphrase heard frequently at the Capitol in connection with Marcellus Shale’s future – “We’ve got to do it right” – to preface their views.
“If we do it right, we can be the model for other states and the federal government,” said Alan Walker, secretary-designate of the Department of Community and Economic Development.
The adoption last year of new state regulations to limit pollutants in drilling wastewater require drillers to use stronger cement in wells and disclose more information about chemicals used in fracking fluids enables state regulators to protect the public from drilling activities, Scott Perry, director of the Bureau of Oil and Gas Management in the Department of Environmental Protection, told the commission.
Perry said DEP has more oil and gas inspectors than some drilling states like Oklahoma and can quickly add more inspectors if needed by amending state regulations to increase the driller permit fees that help pay for enforcement efforts.
But officials of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, an environmental advocacy group which has a seat on the commission, called state regulations inadequate.
Pennsylvania will have to revise its watershed protection plan to address the cumulative load of nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment from the natural gas industry, said Lee Ann Murray, a CBF attorney.
“There are additional issues such as bonding, setbacks, fines, pad-siting, post construction stormwater runoff, which bear closer scrutiny,” said Matt Ehrhart, CBF Pennsylvania director.
Part of the commission’s mandate is to offer recommendations to help local communities deal with the impact of the drilling boom. To that end, James Felmlee, president of the Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs, called for a law allowing local governments to charge an impact fee to offset the effect of drilling operations on roads, water supplies and air quality.
The commissioners heard a presentation on economic development from the Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development, an academic consortium with offices in Scranton and Wilkes-Barre.
During a public comment period, Patrick Walker of Factoryville, a member of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said the commission needs to give serious consideration to scientific studies about the impact of natural gas drilling on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.
In a later comment, Bradford County Commissioner Douglas McLinko said, “the climate gauge in Bradford County is if you want to work you can find a job.”
The commission will meet on a monthly basis with members splitting up to do preparation in four working groups.