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Everybody's Talkin' At Me: Reaction To Commission Report Pours In

Reactions to Governor Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report have been flooding the StateImpact inbox all day. Read on for the highlights of comments from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, County Commissioners Association, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, PennFuture, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, and Pennsylvania Environmental Council.
(Want your group’s comment on here? Email me at sdetrow (at) stateimpact.org.)

Marcellus Shale Coalition (Kathryn Klaber, president)
“The Marcellus Shale Coalition stands ready to work with the regulatory community and General Assembly on modernizing Pennsylvania’s laws and regulations to further the responsible development of the Marcellus Shale. As an industry of engineers and scientists, who solve complex challenges and seek to innovate by the day, we continue to demonstrate our ability to rapidly develop new solutions, technologies and best practices to enhance Marcellus production. From water reuse and recycling practices to meeting DEP’s guidance on surface disposal, our track record is proven.”
Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors
The Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors has been asking lawmakers to impose an impact fee on natural gas drillers and deliver much of the revenue to municipalities dealing with the side effects of the growing industry.
In recent weeks, the Association has also urged Harrisburg to keep land use decision making where it belongs: at the local level.
Now, it’s one step closer to those goals.
On Friday, the state’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, a group of 30 government and natural gas industry leaders, delivered its final report to Gov. Tom Corbett. Among the 96 recommendations, the commission unanimously supported an impact fee, saying that it would help communities on the front lines cover the costs of roads and bridges, emergency response, fire and police protection, public water and sewer systems, natural resource oversight, and permit review and enforcement, to name a few.
The commission also agreed that the state should maintain local land use controls that are reasonable and based on commonsense.
County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (Doug Hill, Executive Director)
Harrisburg, PA – The County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania (CCAP) appreciates the work in which the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission has engaged the past few months to address issues related to Marcellus Shale drilling. The Commission and its subcommittees offered numerous opportunities for input about the concerns counties have with Marcellus Shale drilling and the impacts facing local communities where drilling is taking place.
The Commission’s report appropriately recognizes the broad diversity of these impacts, including infrastructure, health and human services, environmental impacts, housing, criminal justice, public safety, landowner concerns and emergency management. In addition, the Commission recommends an impact fee based on its finding that many of these impacts are uncompensated. This is consistent with the Association’s policy position to seek revenues from restoration of property tax assessability of natural gas (lost to a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision in 2002), or through a severance tax or an impact fee, to mitigate the burden on local property taxpayers for increases in county services and expenditures generated by industry activities.
The Association also appreciates recommendations that address two of CCAP’s 2011 legislative priorities regarding pipeline safety and emergency preparedness in addition to conservation district involvement in erosion and sedimentation permitting. These recommendations recognize counties’ commitment to protecting public and environmental safety, and that certain tools will help counties assure local resource issues and community objectives are prioritized.
Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center
“We are disappointed by today’s report. The commission has missed a golden opportunity to look at the broad impacts of Marcellus Shale drilling — both positive and negative. Instead, it has made recommendations that read like an industry wish list.
“The commission favors a local impact fee on drilling but limits its scope to demonstrated impacts. No other state structures it drilling tax or fee that way. It would be an administrative burden for many local governments in Pennsylvania, especially those in less populous counties.
“The commission also misses a real opportunity to consider how the state can support Marcellus Shale drilling in a way that boosts other industries, like steel, concrete and the service industries. Instead, it asks taxpayers to pay for incentives to create new markets for natural gas. This should not be the taxpayers’ responsibility.
“Finally, this report fails to honestly address the broader statewide impacts from drilling, including air quality, water contamination, societal impacts and habitat disruption. Without this discussion, the report is incomplete.”
PennFuture (John Quigley – advisor; former DCNR secretary)
The Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (MSAC) has issued its long-awaited report. It is required reading for every Pennsylvanian.
The report contains recommendations with which I agree – like the additional regulatory concepts outlined – and some with which I strongly disagree – like including natural gas as a Tier 2-eligible fuel under the state’s Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.
But here I want to focus on several of the Commission’s recommendations that relate to the work of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).
At first glance, it looks like those DCNR-related recommendations are spot-on.
MSAC points out that DCNR has developed a set of best management practicesthat govern gas drilling on state forest land. DCNR developed them in collaboration with the gas industry and stakeholders. As I wrote here, the BMPs are great work – and great leadership – by DCNR Secretary Richard Allan and the women and men of DCNR.
I also wrote that I hoped that those guidelines will be applied not only on the public lands, but across the state.
The MSAC thinks so, too.
“DCNR has developed a set of best management practices for use on state forestland that are also applicable for private lands.” (p. 76)
MSAC goes further, recommending that:
“DEP and DCNR – along with industry – should continually review and examine the range of best management practices utilized during construction and operation of the well site, and consider incorporating these types of practices into regulatory and operator guidance.” (p. 109)
Yes. ….
Chesapeake Bay Foundation
“The final report of the Commission, released today, features key environmental recommendations, as submitted collaboratively by the four environmental representatives on the Commission. If implemented, these recommendations will lead to heightened protection of our waterways and drinking water.”
Some of those key recommendations include:

  • Providing for substantial improvements in Erosion and Sediment Control and Permitting. While oil and gas well sites have the potential to send large volumes of sediment into our streams and rivers, sites less than five acres are not permitted with the same scrutiny as other similar construction sites.   Enforcing the same standards for the oil and gas industry as traditional construction sites will lessen the environmental threats of excess pollution in our waterways.
  • Bringing the County Conservation Districts back into the permitting and oversight process. County conservation districts fulfill the valuable role of providing in-the-field, hands-on information about local environmental issues. Re-establishing their role in the process will help guide the planning, permit review, and inspection of drilling related activities in the region.
  • Key setback provisions to protect our homes, drinking water wells, waterways, and environmentally-sensitive areas. To better protect water resources, the recommendations call for amending the PA Oil & Gas Act to increase the minimum setback distance of a well pad from a spring, stream, or water body from 100 feet to 300 feet; increased to 500 feet if waterway was designated as either High Quality or Exceptional Value. This will protect our waterways from the obvious encroachment of a well pad operation.

“Despite these, and many other significant environmental recommendations being included in the report, there are still environmental issues that remain to be addressed to our satisfaction, including a severance tax or impact fee, and addressing future impacts to state forest lands.  CBF will continue to focus on these issues, as well as the need for a cumulative impact study to better understand the long-term impacts drilling has on our natural resources.”
Pennsylvania Environmental Council
…Now it’s time to act.  And act fast.
We’ve been discussing and debating Marcellus Shale legislation and regulations for more than two years.  And with each passing day, the Department of Environmental Protection approves permit applications for new wells to be drilled somewhere in Pennsylvania.  The people of Pennsylvania have waited patiently for their elected officials to lead on this issue.  While PEC does not support every recommendation in the Commission Report, there are a significant number of recommendations that did achieve consensus and which deserve immediate attention.
With this consensus among industry and environmental community interests, as well as the DEP, on how to better regulate Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas industry, the time has come for the Governor and legislature to put this plan into action.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council calls on Governor Corbett to request a special session of the General Assembly for the express purpose of enacting legislation that will govern the development of natural gas from Pennsylvania Marcellus Shale.
Specifically, we believe this legislation should amend the Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Act as follows:

  • Incorporate all applicable environmental protection recommendations outlined in the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s report.
  • Expand the permitting process to allow for the option of regional comprehensive planning, in advance of individual site approvals, as a means to reduce surface and cumulative impacts of regional importance.
  • Give DEP the authority to deny permits based on impacts to public resources; and expand the list of public resources to include additional sensitive ecological areas such as designated high quality or exceptional value waters.
  • Ensure that DEP has sufficient authority to quickly adapt policies and controls in response to new technologies or information that are still unknown.

While the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission report touches upon issues that go beyond the purview of the Oil & Gas Act and in themselves require immediate attention, we believe it is now clear that meaningful and effective legislative updates to the Act can be accomplished quickly this fall. The path has been made clear – we must act now.

Up Next

Here It Is: The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission's Full Report