Friday, July 22, 2011

Enviro. Groups On Marcellus Commission Call Report Meaningful First Step, More Needed

The four environmental groups on the Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission issued a formal statement in response to the release of the final report Friday saying they consider the report to be a meaningful first step toward improving Pennsylvania’s oversight of shale gas extraction, but additional improvements must be accomplished as the debate shifts to the General Assembly.
The groups included representatives of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, The Nature Conservancy (Pennsylvania Chapter) and the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy.
The formal statement follows:
"Members of Governor Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission last week reviewed and voted on almost one-hundred policy recommendations which will soon be presented to the Governor. Those recommendations will be considered in crafting future policy and regulatory guidance to assist the Commonwealth in how to best move forward and manage natural gas drilling operations. The final recommendations, the “Report of the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission” will be presented to the Governor on July 22.
"As representatives of the four environmental organizations appointed to the Commission, we appreciated the opportunity to serve in this capacity and took our role seriously as we presented the group with real environmentally-focused concerns and scenarios.
"While we, collectively and individually, did not support every recommendation that will be contained in the report, we agree that a number of the recommendations—including several dealing with environmental issues—propose significant improvements in state law and policy intended to effect better management of the shale gas industry.
"The report will propose, among other things:
-- meaningful expansion of well site setbacks from surface waters and wetlands, water supplies, floodplains, and structures;
-- increased bonding and penalties for operators; enhanced public disclosure of well reports and enforcement activities;
-- mandated site inspection;
-- greater information gathering and analysis in the permitting process;
-- improved tracking and reporting of hydraulic fluids and wastewater;
-- measures designed to improve protection of vulnerable wildlife species and important ecological areas;
-- using revenue from an impact fee for community-based environmental, conservation and recreation projects;
-- improved siting of pipelines; and
-- greater restrictions to protect public resources.
"Many of these recommendations meet or exceed previously proposed changes to the Pennsylvania Oil & Gas Act identified by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
"In addition to these important environmental considerations, we also agree about the need for increased attention to the protection of human health. The report recommends a number of actions involving the Department of Public Health obtaining, evaluating, and reporting on public health findings. We encourage the General Assembly to work collaboratively with local groups to develop additional safeguards to protect the residents of the Commonwealth.
"We share concern, however, about several recommendations contained in the report. Among these concerns are:
-- potential threats to the integrity of the State’s Oil and Gas Lease Fund;
-- lack of clear environmental or surface impact reduction standards relating to the concept of pooling;
-- failure to specifically include Growing Greener or the Environmental Stewardship Fund in the impact fee provisions;
-- adding natural gas to Tier II of the Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards; and
-- no clear prohibition on surface impacts from future state forest land leasing.
"We consider the report to be a meaningful first step toward improving Pennsylvania’s oversight of shale gas extraction, but additional improvements must be accomplished as the debate shifts to the General Assembly. We will continue to promote action to address these concerns in coming months. It is imperative that the General Assembly and Governor adopt –no later than the end of this year – a meaningful and comprehensive reform of Pennsylvania’s management of this wide-scale industry. We look forward to working with the Administration, General Assembly, and all stakeholders on the future consideration of recommendations in the report and additional matters related to the management of shale gas development in Pennsylvania.
"The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission members from these groups included: Matthew J. Ehrhart, Chesapeake Bay Foundation; Anthony S. Bartolomeo, Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Ronald L. Ramsey, The Nature Conservancy- PA Chapter; and Cynthia Carrow, Western Pennsylvania Conservancy."

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