After nearly 8 and a half hours of debate, the House considered 38 of the more than 100 amendments filed to the House Republican Marcellus Shale bill-- House Bill 1950 (Ellis-R-Butler), before they ran out of time and adjourned at 11:00 p.m. as their rules require.House Republicans prevented the consideration of dozens of amendments by saying they contained more than one subject and were therefore unconstitutional. Democrats countered by appealing the ruling, but ultimately lost each vote along party-lines.
A handful of amendments did make it into the bill, including two amendments by Rep. Bud George (D-Clearfield), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, which further provides for affect of pre-drilling surveys.
Amendments by Rep. Tina Pickett (R-Bradford) requiring further notification of landowners and water companies on pre-drilling surveys and two amendments offered by Rep. Dan Moul (R-Adams) creating a $5 million and a $7.5 million natural gas vehicle conversion grant and loan programs funded by the DCNR Oil and Gas Fund for certain transit systems were also adopted.
Rep. Matt Baker (R-Tioga) offered a gut and replace amendment that included only one change in the language. It replaced the blanket preemption of local regulation of drilling sought by Gov. Corbett with an approach used by the Senate in Senate Bill 1100 (Scarnati-R-Jefferson) based on the ACRE Program which offers a process to challenge local ordinances limiting agricultural operations.
The language would allow drilling companies to request the Attorney General to review local ordinances to determine whether the ordinance allows for the reasonable development of oil and gas mineral rights.
No changes were made to the county-optional drilling fee advocated by Gov. Corbett. A provision added to House Bill 1950 would also transfer funds out of DCNR's Oil and Gas Fund to finance the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund as expanded by Gov. Rendell to include alternative energy and economic development projects like parking garages.
These are not the narrowly focused priorities established in the original Growing Greener Program proposed by Gov. Ridge-- mine reclamation, watershed restoration, farmland preservation and wastewater and drinking water projects.
Transfers would also be used to fund county conservation districts, the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund and to increase in-lieu of tax payments for state owned land.
The environmental protection provisions in House Bill 1950 mirror the measures the Governor announced in October.House Republicans added Thursday as a voting session day, perhaps in anticipation of two more days of work on House Bill 1950.