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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Summary Of The Municipal Marcellus Cooperative Meeting Hosted By Rep. Jesse White

The proposed Marcellus Shale Cooperative is a coalition of municipalities concerned about the industry and its impact upon their communities. Many of these communities are those, which have experienced the largest impact, thus far, in the area.

The Marcellus Shale industry has its own coalition made up of large corporations, lobbyists with huge bank accounts and power at the state level. This is why communities need to form their own coalitions to stand up to those industry-wide forces pushing against the community’s best interests. Better to stand together, than alone!

The Municipal Marcellus Cooperative’s   ( shaleideas@yahoo.com ) tentative goals are as follows:

---to demand the safest possible work place.
---to seek transparency from the discussions and decisions made by the members of the
    Cooperative who are working together toward sustainable energy benefits for all of us.
---to make sure the industry adheres to their own principles.
---to provide a forum for municipalities to organize.


Mt. Pleasant Township:
Their concerns are about the 100 wells already drilled and the road problems resulting from them.

Cecil Township:
They have two wells drilled and an application for a compression station. Their representative said, “We don’t have the money to monitor these companies. We need a person to monitor the sites for the community.” Currently, they have serious concerns over the water, air, and noise created by the drilling process.

Every community has spent township funds addressing costs incurred from the industry coming into their community without a single dollar being reimbursed by the industry.

Robinson Township (Washington Co.):
They have already spent 80% of their time on Marcellus Shale, along with time and money spent through their police, fire, and road department’s monitoring. They have spent $50-60K on general legal council for Marcellus Shale shrinking $300K from their general fund.

They now have 3-4 drilling sites and a midstream compression station. They have concerns over drilling moving into their residential areas.

All these communities being represented by the panel have ordinances, along with conditional or permissible uses. Currently, Robinson Township has written strict conditional use ordinances.

“Everyone in the state should be scared over what Corbett has proposed, especially in regards to the committee he has formed, which is stacked with industry-friendly members.”

State Representative Jesse White, the host of this event, said, “ No one know what is going on legislatively until it is put into place, such as drilling on state game lands. There is a real lack of transparency with what is going on with Marcellus Shale.” White went on to say, “The taxpayers are getting hit at the local level without any reimbursement, therefore, taxpayer money is being used on behalf of the drillers right in your own community.”

The discussion led toward needing local impact fees, such as extraction fees, which the state legislature has failed to allow.

Corbett has said he won’t vote for a Severance Tax, which means the taxpayers will continue to subsidize the industry. Currently, impact fees can only be used for “transportation” costs only, such as road repairs. The state legislature needs to amend the current “impact fee” law to expand the reimbursement charges. Impact fee ordinances would be then written by the local municipalities.

Jefferson Township:
Jefferson Township official said, “We can’t afford the problems.”

Traffic impact ordinances are allowed for communities, which often cost around $30K to draft by a traffic engineer that would run trip studies and more.

The discussion went on about a need for an enforcement officer hired by the cooperative. Code enforcement officers need to be in place and specifically detail the community’s conditional use proposals directed to the industry.

Cecil speaks:
“Often we are having to analyze and understand the Marcellus Shale industry experts, yet the community has no expert of their own to offer advice to the board.”

“You can charge back to applicant during a conditional use time through an escrow fund process [although this may differ between a first or second class township.].”

What could be considered would be to charge back expert testimony hired by the township to testify on behalf of the community.

Also, communities need to write an ordinance against “bunkhouse” structures built on the drilling sites, as well as prohibition of open pit fires, and open flaring. In addition, the need to have an ordinance requiring detailed emergency preparedness plans in place for drillers and frackers to follow.

“This has to be done because the governor has allowed the industry to be more permissive than less so”, said Jesse White.

Robinson Township has offered their conditional use template to any community in the cooperative. Currently, they have 6-7 Range Industry wells on a single site.

“One thing to keep in mind, all these drillers have different ways of doing things, therefore, the community needs to have some flexibility in their ordinances and conditional uses as the industry advances their technologies and procedures.”

Jesse White then moved the topic to public safety.

In Cecil, there was an incident at a well site but the site manager from Range did not fully explain to the township official who went to the incident as it was unfolding, exactly what was going on. This needs to not happen. Full transparency must be a part of the conditional use, There have been cases where drillers have told the municipality’s responders to go away. Also, a township must write in the conditional use that training will be offered by the driller to the local fire chief in order to assist in incidences.

Also, written in the conditional use is that all employees hired by the driller must be legal workers, drug tested, and “E-Verified”.

Since police, fire, township zoning officers, and road department people are often used as site inspectors and drive through 3-4 times per week, such as in Robinson Township, they must be permitted to visit the site and not locked out, as many have experienced.

If need be, certification and/or training qualifications might be required in order to enter certain areas of the site in order to enforce the ordinances. This becomes an added cost to the township. Don’t hesitate to use the courts to enter a site, when necessary.

Municipalities have the right to search and seize to get on the site, if refused.

Pennsylvania does not have production and gathering line inspection systems in place. Nor does the state have corrosion inspection in place.

A municipality might want to establish a local natural gas advisory board made up of knowledgeable local residents.

Since seismic testing is done at the site before anything is done, companies who enter the property to do the work should notify the municipalities before entering the site, as well as notifying the property owner, as well.

Municipalities might want to consider writing a Seismic Testing ordinance detailing the specific rules, policies and procedures.

The law currently says that they aren’t required to notify the municipality, only DEP, therefore standards need to be written in the ordinances.

Municipalities need to write air quality testing ordinances, too. The DEP encourages this.

Marcellus Shale was exempted from the Clean Air and Water Act during the Bush administration, which is referred to as the Halliburton Loophole. But in 2009, municipalities were allowed to implement conditional uses to recover original costs and reassessed costs after the drilling process began.

Conditional use ordinances must be written by experts and followed up by experts.

One major problem is that the industry has not written a comprehensive plan detailing how it will move the gas from the drilling pad site located in a residential area, to its processing station. Many of these sites are around 6 acres in size.

The gas well drillers and midstream compressors are considered heavy industry sites, and do disrupt residential areas. Ordinances must be written to prevent such a site from entering a residential area, which was written for South Fayette.

At the end, citizens got a chance to speak, too.

One said that overtime laws have been violated, as well as workers paid under-the-table. Workers are not provided with Workmen’s Compensation benefits, either. There are non-union workers brought in from out-of-state, too.

Safety concerns need to be addressed in regards to waste water haulers who might not be licensed.

Finally, there was discussion about local stewardship water testing training programs put into place so local residents can monitor their own streams and creeks and report back to DEP when they see a problem.

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