Monday, April 5, 2010

[Pennsylvania] State lawmakers look to regulate gas drilling

By Elizabeth Skrapits (Staff Writer)
Published: April 5, 2010

In response to growing concerns about the effects of natural gas drilling on water supplies and the environment, state lawmakers are proposing legislation to change the way the industry is regulated.

One proposal, which will be discussed at a public hearing this week, has the support of several local legislators and a newly formed local environmental group, while another piece is condemned by the group as likely to undermine state oversight of natural gas drilling.

State Rep. Camille "Bud" George, D-Houtzdale, Clearfield County, who is chairwoman of the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, introduced House Bill 2213, the Land and Water Protection Act.

The proposed legislation would amend the state Oil and Gas Act to require state inspections of natural gas well sites during each drilling phase; extend the presumed liability of a natural gas well for polluting a water supply from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet around the well site; require full disclosure of chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" and update bonding requirements to cover costs of closing down a natural gas well and restoring the land.

The Environmental Resources and Energy Committee will hold a hearing on the bill - and on ways to mitigate environmental risks associated with Marcellus Shale drilling - on Wednesday from 1 to 3 p.m. in the Kingston Township municipal building, 180 E. Center St. State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, D-Kingston, a co-sponsor of the bill, will be moderator.

People who will give testimony include Jeff Schmidt, senior director of the area Sierra Club chapter; Dr. Gere Reisinger of Wyoming County, whose farm was affected by natural gas drilling; and Victoria Switzer of Dimock Township, Susquehanna County, whose water supply was contaminated by nearby gas drilling.

Also slated to speak is Dr. Thomas Jiunta of Lehman Township, founder of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, formerly known as Luzerne County Citizens for Clean Water.

A controversial aspect of natural gas drilling is the fracking process, which involves blasting millions of gallons of chemical-treated fresh water deep underground to fracture the shale in order to release the gas.

Jiunta's group held a public information meeting last Wednesday in Dallas to highlight what they believe are the potential negative impacts of natural gas drilling, and to urge people to call on their state and federal lawmakers to impose regulations on the industry.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, who attended the meeting, called HB 2213 "a piece of legislation you want to get your arms around."

Boback and state Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, who was also present at the meeting, pledged to work to address the concerns brought up by residents.

"I believe the inspection component is critical," Baker said. "That is the highest priority from my perspective, the water quality is the highest priority, and what we do with the discharge is another key component." More>>>