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Saturday, October 1, 2011

Legislators heard a range of testimony on gas drilling


Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 5:00 am | Updated: 8:00 am, Fri Sep 30, 2011.
State legislators heard several hours of testimony Thursday during a public hearing on Pennsylvania’s highly controversial Marcellus Shale drilling.
State Rep. Marguerite Quinn (R-143rd) hosted the House Majority Policy Committee hearing at Doylestown’s Aldie Mansion.
Representatives from environmental agencies, the natural gas industry and municipal governments gave a wide range of sometimes-conflicting testimony about the risks and benefits of gas drilling.
Much of the testimony cautioned against repeating the mistakes of the past when the coal industry wreaked environmental havoc in parts of the state.
In his testimony, David Masur, director of PennEnvironment, told the 11-member panel he thought John Quigley, former Department of Conservation and Natural Resources secretary, put it best when he said, “The cumulative impacts of the Marcellus Shale/Utica Era will dwarf all of Pennsylvania’s previous waves of extraction combined.” Utica Shale is being drilled in Ohio.
Rep. Dave Reed (R-Indiana), chairman of the policy committee, said he hopes the statement proves to be wrong.
“If we do our job responsibly,” there’s no need for such a negative outlook, said Reed, noting that during the decades of coal mining there was little environmental regulation.
“Only the history books will tell us if the state was successful in protecting the state’s air, water and human health,” said Masur.
PennEnvironment, a nonprofit environmental advocacy organization, is calling for greater public transparency about the chemicals being discharged into surface water, an increase in funding to the Department of Environmental Protection, regular inspection of drilling sites and prohibiting drilling in areas that supply drinking water, among several other regulations.
Rep. Bob Godshall of Montgomery County (R-53) challenged Masur on some statements regarding pollution, saying studies have shown no correlation between drilling and air pollution.
Andrew Heath, executive director of the Renew Growing Greener Coalition, encouraged the legislators to direct some of any money generated from drilling fees to the state’s largest coalition of recreation, conservation and environmental organizations.
As Pennsylvanians await a decision on impact fees from Gov. Tom Corbett, Carl Carlson, director of government affairs for Range Resources, a company that’s drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, testified his industry supports such a charge.
“Defining what the impact is, is difficult,” however, said Carlson.
“One of the biggest challenges as an industry is to overcome public perception that shale gas drilling could be a significant threat to Pennsylvania’s water, air and other precious resources. Our activities are certainly not invisible and we are not zero risk,” he said in a statement to the committee.
“We firmly believe that through practical regulation and industry dedication, that this resource can be developed with lower total risk than other viable energy sources.”
Quinn has proposed House Bill 1700, which, unlike other plans, takes into account the production curve of wells, which release most of their gas in the first several years.
Her bill would charge a $50,000 fee for each well during its first two years of operation, depending on its production. The fee would then decrease over time to a minimum of $10,000. Quinn’s bill would direct revenue toward environmental protection and local governments.
Quinn asked Carlson if his company has committed to keeping natural gas sales in the U.S. or Pennsylvania.
“I’d be shocked if we made any commitment like that,” said Carlson.
Rep. Jerry Knowles asked Carlson if his company was taxed like any other corporation in the state. While the company executive said yes, he noted the firms’ tax deductions outweigh any taxes levied.
“We’ve invested $3 billion, mostly over the last two years,” added Carlson. He said Ohio also has a wealth of natural gas.
Also testifying were Elam Herr, assistant executive director of the State Association of Township Supervisors, and Doug Hill, executive director of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
Herr said municipalities, which bear the brunt of the impact from the drilling, need to have a say in how any impact fee revenue is spent.
“Municipalities should be able to have control over the money for their communities,” Herr said.
Once-rural roads are now being used 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Local water supplies are being affected and municipal wastewater treatment plants were not built for fracking wastewater, Herr told the committee.
“This industry has an effect on the entire community,” said Herr.
Hill explained that natural gas drillers are not paying local property taxes for the land where the minerals they are extracting are found. Until 2002, the land under which oil and gas were found was taxable, said Hill. Now it’s exempt.
Two drilling opponents attended the hearing, highlighting the passion the issue has created across the state.
Mark Schmerling, a self-described environmental activist, briefly interrupted the meeting. Holding a large color photograph of a woman standing in front of a drilling operation, he said the woman was living with cancer-causing chemicals in her blood.
He said he was there to expose both the human and environmental dangers of gas drilling.
Freda Savana:215-345-3061; email:fsavana@phillyBurbs.com;
Twitter:@fredasavana

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