Thursday, July 7, 2011

Governor's Marcellus Shale Commission To Consider Final Recommendations July 15

The Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission will meet on July 15 to finalize its recommendations to Gov. Corbett.
The Commission will receive the preliminary recommendations from each of its work groups on infrastructure, environmental protection, local impact and economic development which all met for a final time in the last two weeks.
The only work group recommendations forwarded to the full Commission for consideration were those receiving unanimous support by work group members. If only one member objected, the recommendation was not included.
The process, however, does not preclude individual members bringing up recommendations for full Commission consideration next week.
Environmental Group Recommendations
In May, two of the environmental organizations sitting on the Commission made a series of more than 50 recommendations to the Commission and the General Assembly for changing the way Pennsylvania deals with Marcellus-related issues.
It remains to be seen how many of the proposals will make it into the final Commission report.
The May proposals, submitted by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation provides a detailed prescription of amendments that must be made to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act so that state law can effectively regulate and manage deep shale and unconventional drilling techniques that were never contemplated when the law was enacted.
“The Marcellus Shale gas play represents a once-in-a-generation challenge and opportunity for Pennsylvania,” said PEC president and chief executive officer Paul M. King. “We have one chance to get it right and these amendments are the way to do that. It’s our sincere hope that the General Assembly passes these amendments into law for the good of the Pennsylvania environment and economy.”
”The regulations and oversight governing this industry have not kept up with the technology for extraction,” said Matt Ehrhart, Executive Director for the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania office. “Updating Pennsylvania’s Oil and Gas Act is a critical step in enabling the Commonwealth to manage Marcellus extraction in a fashion that protects our natural resources and our communities.”
Among the specific changes called for in the proposal are:
-- Overhaul of Permit Process: Split the current permitting process into two phases to allow for more public review and comment and to take the cumulative impacts of drilling on communities;
-- Increasing Buffer Distances: Increasing the buffer distances between well operations and nearby streams and waterways, including a prohibition against drilling in floodplains to safeguard against pollution risks;
-- Required, Minimum Inspections: Requiring on-site inspections of each new well site by the Department of Environmental Protection at several intervals in the well development process;
-- Increase Bonding: Increasing bonding amounts to cover the true cost of development, production and closure through the life-cycle of a well;
-- Pipeline, Infrastructure Sharing: Requiring the industry to share pipelines and other facilities needed for the development and production of natural gas in order to minimize the surface impacts;
-- Permit Decision Rules: Establish a set of permit decision rules designed to minimize or eliminate adverse environmental impacts; and
-- Build County Capacity: Increasing the capacity and engagement at a county level for planning to help avoid or eliminate community impacts, providing resources to effectively review pipeline and other Marcellus infrastructure proposals and individual drilling permits, and authorize a host county inspector certified and trained by DEP to inspect gas well sites, modeled after host inspectors authorized for landfills.
The proposed amendments are based on research from both organizations, including the findings of a PEC report issued last year called “Developing the Marcellus Shale” which outline a series of recommendations for improving oversight and management of unconventional shale gas development.
These amendments are aimed at restoring public confidence in the industry’s ability and commitment to responsible drilling and environmental compliance.
The proposal includes 50 specific amendments to the Act which reform the permit process to allow for greater stakeholder input and set clear environmental protection standards for the hydraulic fracturing process and the infrastructure that should be required for shale gas extraction.
The Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are proposing that the process for obtaining a drilling permit be split into two phases that require enhanced collection and review of site-specific data prior to approval. They each regard the current process as insufficient since well sites are often remote and the approval time-frame prescribed by law is very short.
The proposal also calls for a number of tighter restrictions in the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act, which is the central piece of legislation regulating the extraction of natural gas in Pennsylvania. It exists to promote the development Pennsylvania’s oil and natural gas resources without sacrificing the health, safety, environment and property of the citizens of Pennsylvania.
Additionally, it is the authorizing legislation giving the Department of Environmental Protection regulatory power to protect people and property in areas affected by oil and gas development, and to protect “natural resources, environmental rights and values” in accordance with the Pennsylvania Constitution.
The origins of the Oil and Gas Act date back to 1874, but even the most recent amendments to the law were enacted long before the Marcellus Shale gas play was discovered and the hydraulic fracturing extraction method was utilized in Pennsylvania.
A number of accidents at Marcellus Shale drill rigs in recent months have brought into focus the potential for adverse impacts on public health and the environment whether from failures of technology, adequate controls, or human error. Therefore it is necessary to set greater controls in the law itself, and require the deployment of best management practices to ensure sufficient protections are in place.
The proposal calls for regional planning to avoid any potential adverse impacts to sensitive public or natural resources at the local level. Such planning should also allow for well site infrastructure to be consolidated so as to minimize its impact on the environment and roadways and to reduce the potential for cumulative impacts. However this planning requirement is not included in the proposed amendments to state law but rather is encouraged at the local level by industry and local government officials.
The Nature Conservancy-Pennsylvania Chapter released this statement on the PEC, CBF legislative proposal on drilling:
"Five years ago, hardly anyone outside the natural gas industry had heard the words “Marcellus Shale.” Today, the development of this energy resource is Pennsylvania’s #1 economic and environmental issue.
"On May 10, the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a set of proposed changes to the PA Oil and Gas Act intended to improve regulation and oversight of unconventional shale gas development in the Commonwealth.
"Several recent incidents involving operations at Marcellus Shale drilling sites have illustrated the importance of making certain that Pennsylvania's management of these activities protects drinking water and environmental quality from potential adverse impacts associated with shale gas production.
"We also need to ensure that the natural treasures that make Pennsylvania the special place we know – including our large unfragmented forests, native brook trout streams, and unique wildlife species and habitats – are not sacrificed to gas extraction. The Pennsylvania Chapter of The Nature Conservancy recently released a report documenting the footprint of Marcellus Shale gas extraction activities and projecting out twenty years the likely cumulative impact of this wave of development on our lands and waters. (The report can be found online.)
"At The Nature Conservancy, we are convinced that this energy resource can be developed in a manner that avoids or significantly reduces negative impacts on important habitat – but only if the industry builds this kind of information into its siting of well pads, roads, and pipelines at the front end, and regulators review siting applications with an eye on the cumulative impacts across larger landscapes and across time.
"We applaud PEC and CBF for putting forth a legislative proposal that aims to address both of these concerns – the safety of our drinking water, and the survival of the natural world around us. We look forward to working with industry, policymakers, our colleagues in the conservation community and others to achieve agreement on changes to the Pennsylvania Oil and Gas Act and additional policy initiatives that will enable us to meet these important challenges."
For more information, visit the Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission webpage.

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