Energy. Environment. Economy.

Marcellus Shale Industry Lobbies For New Endangered Species Laws

The red-bellied cooter is one of 88 endangered wildlife species in Pennsylvania.

Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission

The red-bellied cooter is one of 88 endangered wildlife species in Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry is throwing its support behind new proposed legislation that would change the way creatures are added to the state’s endangered species list.

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Jeff Pyle (R-Armstrong) and backed by Republican leaders, could knock down regulatory hurdles for drillers, while throwing up new ones for the two state agencies that oversee designations to the list.

Pyle, whose district includes the mining and hydraulic fracturing industries, argues the current system is slowing down economic development – especially in the growing oil and gas industry.

“I can tell you we’ve had Marcellus developments which are bringing great wealth to our area,” Pyle told StateImpact in a phone interview. “It’s letting people keep their farms and those, you don’t know until you walk face first into it that you’re in a bat habitat or a protected area for spadefoot toads, rattlesnakes.”

In an Aug. 26 letter of support for the bill, heads of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania and the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association wrote that the bill would “introduce consistency, transparency, and accountability to threatened and endangered species conservation while also allowing sustainable economic development across the Commonwealth.” (Read the full letter below.)

Right now, if a gas company wants to build a new drilling rig or construct a pipeline, the company has to go through a lengthy habitat review process to check for threats to rare or endangered wildlife in the area.

One part of Pyle’s bill would force the two state commissions that oversee the list – the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission – to prove the presence of endangered species, rather than requiring gas companies to conduct their own field studies first. It will also create a “centralized database” for industry to access information about these habitats. That information is currently blocked by the state’s Right to Know law to prevent poachers from hunting threatened animals.

As natural gas drilling expands in northeast Pennsylvania, well sites and pipeline routes are disturbing more and more timber rattlesnake habitats.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

As natural gas drilling expands in northeast Pennsylvania, well sites and pipeline routes are disturbing more and more timber rattlesnake habitats.

John Arway is head of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. Arway said his agency has been criticized for how long the review process can take. “But the reality is, in the case of my commission, the anglers and boaters are paying for this service. The industry doesn’t pay for this service,” he said.

Kathryn Klaber, CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, downplayed the industry’s role in pushing for the bill in an e-mailed statement, saying it would benefit “every industry that moves dirt – agriculture, home builders, municipal water authorities and utilities, manufacturing, road construction and energy development.”

Klaber praised the legislation for its transparency. But critics argue the bill will undermine the authority of the commissions by also giving the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the state legislature more control over endangered species designations. The Pittsburgh-Post Gazette reported it could also force the commissions to lose $27 million in federal grants.

“When you say another independent board, it’s really putting it more into another beurocratic structure than it would be into a little more scientific structure,” said Rep. Steve McCarter (D-Montgomery).

Arway said the two commissions have been working on a new review system for the last five years, but they’ve run out of money to finish the project.

“Really, if industry wants an expedited process, they need to begin investing in this review tool that’ll help all of us.”


  • davidmeiser

    Anti-conservation lawmakers are taking aim at Pennsylvania’s endangered and threatened species.

    Pennsylvania HB 1576 and SB 1047 would diminish the Pennsylvania Game Commission’s and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s ability to protect endangered and threatened species in our state.

    The commonwealth has a long and proud tradition of independent fish and game agencies. Politicians shouldn’t mess with it.

    These bills would send the Commission’s endangered and threatened species lists to the Independent Regulatory Review Commission (IRRC), an agency dominated by the legislature, for additional scrutiny.

    The IRRC does not have scientific expertise or standards to evaluate species listing proposals. Proponents of the bill claim that this is just like asking for a second opinion on a medical diagnosis. That claim is absurd. Second opinions on a diagnosis are rendered by another physician, not by political appointees with no science background.

    These agencies’ biologists are better judges of the threats to wildlife than political appointees would be. The agencies make decisions regarding proposals for protecting rare, threatened, or endangered species in an open, transparent manner.

    As if we needed more reasons to oppose these bills, their passage would likely mean the loss in up to $27 million in federal wildlife restoration funds, representing up to a third of the budgets of the Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission.

    These federal funds would be lost because managing threatened and endangered species in the fashion proposed by this bill would demonstrate our state’s incompetence in wildlife management.

    In addition, these bills could encourage more federal involvement in species protection. One of the criteria utilized by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in determining whether to pursue listing of a species is the sufficiency of state resource protection laws. By curtailing the authority of the Commissions, this proposed legislation could prompt a more active federal role in species protection.

    • Fred Peckham

      Sounds just like the Delaware River Basin Commission, they have neither the scientific ability nor the financial ability to regulate NG development.

  • StephenCleghorn

    Sadly, my Senator Joe Scarnati carrying the fracking water for the gas industry again. Does he never tire of being their pack mule? This is why we need a new Declaration of the Rights of Nature. Otherwise we will continue to see attacks of the creatures of air and water (including us) in the name of short-term profit making.

  • Sean Indignado Kitchen

    Also, if you want to see an exclusive letter from Senator Gordner to a constituent that we published on the Raging Chicken Press, please click on the following link.

    Gordner creates a false choice between endangered species and economic development and pretty much lied about why he supports this legislation.

  • StephenCleghorn
  • Skip Carlsbaugh

    THe idiot gameless commission cannot be trusted with ANYTHING> They are made up of individuals that are enviroextremists and they wish to shut down the gas and coal industry etc.. THe same nutjobs that pushed for the annihilation of the “evil deer” and ruined deer hunting. I support any and all efforts to put a muzzle on this out of control rogue “independent” agency.

  • dave

    Sounds like Pyle is a gas hooker.

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