When lawmakers return to Harrisburg next week they will be faced with a new proposal to put a moratorium on new permits for hydraulic fracturing.
State Sen. Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny) announced that he is introducing legislation during a news conference at the Allegheny County Courthouse Wednesday.
Senate Bill 1100 would also create a commission to analyze the agricultural, economic, environmental and social effects of Marcellus Shale drilling.
The seven-person commission will be made up of a representative from a nonprofit environmental organization, an academic institution, the oil and gas industry, a geologist, a medical or public health expert, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Environmental Protection and the Pennsylvania Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources.
Ferlo said that since the natural gas boom began he has been advocating for a more cautious approach to drilling. He said people across the state are forced to stand by as companies commit infractions against them.
“We must take a step back to deliberately and thoughtfully determine the impact and indirect costs and benefits of an industry that lacks proper regulatory oversight really due to what I call ‘power politics’ played out in our state capitol,” he said.
Ferlo said the Corbett administration hasn’t enacted tough enough protections and “couldn’t care less about protecting our environment as well as our natural resources.”
The Corbett administration has stressed in the past that it supports drilling only if it is done in an environmentally responsible manner.
Ferlo said the upcoming Shale Insight conference, presented by the pro-industry Marcellus Shale Coalition in Philadelphia, is just politics.
“They’re there to influence corporations, and state legislators, and state senators that ‘we’re here, we’re big, and we’ll be damned if anybody’s going to get in our way,'” said Ferlo. “And that’s what that convention is about in Philadelphia. They won’t have it here. They’re over there in Philadelphia to try to influence politics and policy makers.”
The Marcellus Shale formation does not extend to the southeastern corner of the state.
Also at the news conference Wednesday were environmental activists, county politicians and farmers affected by the industry.
“Across the state, from the most liberal parts of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh to the most conservative parts of the state, people are saying, ‘I am sick of having this in my backyard. I am sick of seeing gas drilling wells 500 or 300 feet from the school I send my kids to, the daycare center I send my 1-year-old to, the hospital my grandma is in,” said Adam Garber, field director for PennEnvironment.
Rob Gleason, chairman of the Republican Party of Pennsylvania, issued a statement against the bill. In it he said, “It’s alarming that extreme liberals like Jim Ferlo and Allyson Schwartz will not hesitate to crush Pennsylvanians to cater to the extreme left-wing of their party. What will Jim Ferlo and Allyson Schwartz say to over 200,000 people who will lose their jobs as a result of these destructive policies?”
Gleason is referencing U.S. Rep. Allyson Schwartz’s (D-PA-18) proposal that Pennsylvania enact a 5 percent severance tax on natural gas production. Schwartz is currently running for governor. Schwartz does not support a moratorium on shale drilling.
Gleason's statement went on to say that the U.S. is experiencing an “energy renaissance” because of Marcellus Shale drilling and Corbett’s policies.
While at the conference Ferlo took time to express his disappointment in Allegheny County’s hydraulic fracturing policies.
He said he disagrees with County Executive Rich Fitzgerald’s approval of expanded drilling on county land, including at Pittsburgh International Airport.
“I respect our County Executive on many fronts, but I’m opposed to the County Executive balancing his budget on the backs of our environment,” said Ferlo. “And I think that’s basically what is happening.”
In the crowd was County Councilwoman Barbara Daly Danko, who received applause when Ferlo mentioned she was there. Danko has been a leading opponent of fracking in the county.