In a report issued Tuesday, Pennsylvania environmentalists criticized the state legislature for its failure to pass legislation to regulate the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry and assess a fee on each well drilled.
PennFuture President Jan Jarrett said the long delay stems from the General Assembly's insistence that a single overhaul bill is the right path. Jarret argued that the state would do better to break up the legislation into several bills that each address a specific issue — for instance, one bill for an impact fee and another for the regulation of well-site operations.
"The controversy and the disagreement over the drilling tax and the impact fee have also stalled the effort to modernize the regulations," said Jarrett, "and that is something that everyone agrees is badly needed."
In the meantime, added Jarret, the state Department of Environmental Protection should do what it can to make policy changes.
"They could move ahead with additional regulations that would expand the list of public resources that DEP has to consider when they issue well permits," said Jarrett. "They could require cradle-to-grave tracking of all well wastewaters, establish standards and conditions for above-ground pipelines to carry wastewater, and require closed-loop waste management systems at well sites."
She said similar measures were taken by the DEP under former Governor Ed Rendell. "They've got a lot of latitude," said Jarrett.
Both chambers of the General Assembly have passed a comprehensive bill to regulate the Marcellus Shale industry, but the two versions have yet to be reconciled. A major point of contention is the right of municipalities to establish zoning laws for industry-related infrastructure.
UPDATE (1/18/11) — DEP spokeswoman Katherine Gresh responded to Jarrett's request with the following statement:
"As Ms. Jarrett is likely aware, enacting measures into law will provide much more certainty than regulations would. There are some recommendations among those made by the Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission that can be enacted without legislation, and with Gov. Corbett's commitment to protecting the environment, DEP is already working on putting those into effect. We look forward to hearing from the public, including Ms. Jarrett and her organization, as that process moves forward."
Former DCNR Chief: Protect State Parks, Forests
Former Department of Conservation & Natural Resources Secretary John Quigley added his voice to Jarrett's, calling for separate bills to keep gas well sites out of state parks.
"First, to establish a 500-foot setback for drilling activity from the boundaries of a state park, and require protective studies for any proposed drilling that can't be avoided within a state park," said Quigley. "Second, to enact a significant impact fee if, in fact, the surface of the state park is disturbed."
Quigley said no wells have been drilled on state park land thus far, but development has been proposed for some, such as Ohiopyle in Fayette County.
About one-third of state forest land has already been leased for natural gas drilling, said Quigley. Any more leasing could endanger the well-being of the forests' ecosystems, he warned.
In addition, Quigley said increased leasing may cause the nonprofit Forest Stewardship Council to retract its "sustainably-managed" certification for Pennsylvania state forests. That designation is what drives the market for the sustainable lumber industry, said Quigley — and he said state forests provide nearly nine-tenths of Pennsylvania's sustainable lumber.
"That's a $5-6 billion market for sustainably harvested wood," said Quigley. "That employs 90,000 Pennsylvanians [and] 3,000 companies, some in every county in Pennsylvania."