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More Details Emerge About Corbett’s Monday Marcellus Shale Rollout

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

Governor Corbett briefs reporters during September flooding

Correction: An earlier version of this post said Corbett is opposed to changes in zoning laws. We meant to write pooling, and have fixed the error.

StateImpact has learned more details about Governor Corbett’s Monday rollout of his Marcellus Shale agenda.

On Monday morning, administration officials will brief lawmakers, environmental advocates, and representatives from the energy industry on the proposal’s details. After that, Corbett will publicly announce the plan during a Pittsburgh event an administration advisory bills as a forum for the Republican to “discuss jobs related [to] the Marcellus Shale Industry.”

A member of the administration briefed StateImpact on the plan and its rollout. Legislative staffers confirmed the details.

Corbett staffers have been working on the proposal since late July, when the governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued a report including 96 recommendations for  changes to Pennsylvania laws, regulations and economic policy.

Despite that prep work, Corbett will announce broad parameters, rather than a specific bill, on Monday. The administration views the rollout as a starting point that will lead to negotiations with the General Assembly, specifically Senate President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, who has led the push for a local-level impact fee on natural gas drillers.

As Corbett indicated last month, an impact fee will be part of his plan. He’ll also call for new environmental regulations like increased setbacks between wells and waterways.

Corbett has made it clear he disagrees with the commission’s recommendation to rewrite Pennsylvania’s pooling laws, and he’ll stick with that stance on Monday.

The third high-profile shale issue – whether or not to limit municipalities’ ability to pass drilling ordinances – remains unsettled. Corbett wants “uniformity and consistency” across the commonwealth, the administration official said, but also respects townships’ right to pass their own regulations. So the issue will stay on the table during upcoming negotiations, without a firm directive from the governor.

The impact fee Scarnati proposed this spring would bar municipalities from receiving impact fee revenue, if their ordinances were deemed too strict. (The Public Utility Commission would draft a “model ordinance” that would act as the statewide benchmark for local regulations, under Scarnati’s plan.) Drillers have long complained about the patchwork of ordinances they need to adapt to across Pennsylvania, and have pushed for statewide consistency, when it comes to regulations like setbacks, noise limits and permit fees. In May, Marcellus Shale Coalition president Kathryn Klaber delivered a presentation to Corbett’s committee on the issue.

She said some townships have gone as far as banning nighttime noise increases over 5 decibels, in an attempt to keep rigs away. “If this were applied uniformly, those levels would be violated by a residential central air conditioning units, or quite literally, in some areas, the crickets,” she argued. “This is an area that can be dealt with, if there are reasonable and predictable noise standards. But when normal, unamplified conversations are between 60 and 70 decibels, it’s a little hard to operate. And it’s not appropriate for it to be on one single industry.”

Earlier this week, Scarnati called on lawmakers to pass the measure by the end of October. Corbett, we’re told, shares that goal.

We’ll have much more on Corbett’s plan, and what it means for drilling in Pennsylvania, on Monday.

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