Monday, July 26, 2010

PEMA Outlines Challenges Facing Emergency Responders From Marcellus Shale Drilling

Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency Director Robert P. French today outlined the new challenges facing his agency and emergency responders statewide as a result of sharply increased natural gas drilling activities.
"There are substantial benefits of natural gas production for our commonwealth and its citizens. However, Marcellus Shale drilling is an industry that does have inherent risks, as demonstrated by the recent blowout at a well in Lawrence Township, Clearfield County, and a fire at a separator tank in Susquehanna County," French testified at a hearing today in Pittsburgh.
In the past year alone, there have been at least 47 incidents at natural gas operations that required an emergency response by the Department of Environmental Protection, French noted.
As the industry has expanded in Pennsylvania, French said PEMA has had to elevate its efforts, as well. Among other things, the agency conducts tabletop exercises and roundtable meetings with industry and local officials, and assists county 9-1-1 centers with their concerns on how to identify drilling sites - often in very remote locations - so first responders can more quickly react to emergencies.
French said PEMA will continue working with state and local partners in emphasizing a culture of "safety first" within the industry to minimize the number of incidents that would require an emergency response.
Adding to concerns are budgetary constraints at all levels of government, French noted, which can impact training and emergency response capabilities.
Gov. Rendell has proposed that a portion of a severance tax the General Assembly has agreed to enact by Oct. 1 be dedicated to local governments and emergency responders to support planning, training and equipment.
French reminded Pennsylvanians of available resources that can help them prepare for and respond to any emergency. Materials such as home and car emergency kit checklists and emergency plan templates are available online at or by calling 1-888-9-READYPA.

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