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Environmental Groups Say Clock is Ticking on Effective Marcellus Shale Bills

November 14, 2011

HARRISBURG, Pa. - There are only nine days left on Pennsylvania's legislative calendar, and environmental groups such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation are concerned that the session could conclude without solid legislation in place to address potential problems associated with Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling projects.

Matt Ehrhart is executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) in Pennsylvania and a member of the Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

"We have an opportunity to update this legislation, to make sure that all the important data is being incorporated into the decision-making. A lot of this gets into really fine sorts of details, but it's critical to manage those details well."

Ehrhart says getting all this right the first time is critical. He says rarely does the General Assembly tackle legislation of this magnitude and then revisit it later for tweaking.

"If we simply address the sexy issues - impact fee or severance tax issue and the local land use pre-emption - if we move some of those things forward without the other protection pieces in the oil and gas act restructuring, I'm concerned that you do a couple of things and you don't come back."

Among the specific recommendations the groups see as critical to any effective legislation are identifying where drilling should be further restricted, improved water resource management, and a new review of spill containment systems. Ehrhart says it should also address potential effects on the environment and residents who live near drilling sites.

"I think you have to look at a bonding structure so that if you have problems, you have the resources necessary to rectify the situation."

The General Assembly is currently poised to take action on two bills to regulate the development of natural gas from the Marcellus Shale. CBF and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council say that, while both bills contain important provisions, each is missing critical safeguards needed to ensure public health and safety, clean water supplies, and effective use of the land.

Tom Joseph, Public News Service - PA