Will The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission Recommend More Study or More Cement?

Regardless of how you feel about fracking taxes, it’s obvious that when it comes to natural gas extraction in the Marcellus Shale, the Corbett administration puts far too much faith in corporate good intentions, a few hundred DEP inspectors and cement. We need to come together on this complex and divisive issue, yet the upcoming July 22 report from the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission promises to further deepen the ideological fractures among citizens and stake-holders.

Gas Industry personnel along with unabashedly pro-drilling elected officials and appointees, such as Lt. Governor Jim Cawley and Energy Executive, Patrick Henderson, populate the majority of this Commission. Environmental groups certainly have a voice but it’s less proportionate than, say, the number of Democrats compared to Republicans in the PA House. A complete list of the Advisory Commission membership is below.

The Marcellus Advisory Commission, which exists thanks to a March 2011 executive order from the governor, is designed to be a purely democratic meeting of minds. The members quickly decamped into several workgroups, laboring over the multifaceted Marcellus issues in their respective areas of expertise. The workgroups then submitted their recommendations to the committee, which is set to vote on which recommendations will be included in their final report tomorrow. The individual reports can be found online and here in earlier posts.

You needn’t be a pollster to figure this one out. There’s little hope for this committee to vote in favor of strong, pro-environment recommendations. I can’t wait to read it, and I hope I’m proven wrong.

If the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission is serious about getting gas right, they would require drillers to conduct independent baseline testing for thermogenic methane in all local water wells within the 1-mile frack zone. They’d require monthly testing at municipal intakes downstream of operations and facilities where recycled frack flowback deposits are made (for things like radium 226, strontium, barium and bromide). They’d prohibit drilling not only in floodplains, but also in wetlands and watersheds. They’d recommend a moratorium on drilling in State Forest lands. And they’d require drillers to manifest ALL frack waste water, with no exemptions for shallow wells or wells producing less than 80,000 gallons.

It’s truly doubtful that stiffer regulations would stifle this industry one bit. They claim to recycle nearly 100% of their flowback, anyway. They want the gas, and they’re gonna get it.

At the rate Pennsylvania is wooing drillers and approving permits, while simultaneously cutting the DEP budget, Corbett and his crew seem like a study in getting it wrong. There may have 69, count `em, existing regs on the books (18 relating solely to fracking), and this may well put Pennsylvania on regulatory par with other gas drilling states, but we also have more fresh water and private water wells than any other state. What’s more, the geology of the Marcellus shale isproving to be more intricate to boot. Maybe that’s why we have more “fraccidents” than any other state! The only recommendation that might begin to mollify the numerous environmental groups who will surely scrutinize the report would be to call for actual scientific studies, such as the ones recommended by the Advisory Commission’s own Physicians Workgroup.

I understand that we’re in the infancy of the Marcellus play. Instead of Drill, Baby, Drill, perhaps at this stage it should be Test, Baby, Test. The more information the better, yes? But who will pay? Drillers? Private and municipal water providers? Sewage treatment facilities? The state? I suppose a fracking tax could help with that, if we had one. But the one thing Chairman Cawley has announced is that the Marcellus Advisory Commission’s final report won’t include any recommendation for a drilling tax or impact fee. We can look forward to that debate in the fall.

If we weren’t talking about an estimated $200 million in lost tax revenue this year so far, it might even be funny, because if there’s one thing gas drillers, conservationists and even busy environmental engineers can agree on: Pennsylvania is selling itself cheap!

The Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission
Chair: Lt. Governor Jim Cawley
Commission Members:
Mike Krancer, Secretary of Environmental Protection, Harrisburg
George Greig, Secretary of Agriculture, Harrisburg
C. Alan Walker, Secretary of Community and Economic Development, Harrisburg
Richard J. Allan, Acting Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources, Harrisburg
Barry Schoch, Secretary of Transportation, Harrisburg
Patrick Henderson, the Governor’s Energy Executive, Harrisburg
Robert Powelson, Chairman of the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission, Harrisburg
Glenn Cannon, Director of Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency, Harrisburg
James W. Felmlee, President of the PA State Association of Boroughs, Harrisburg
Clifford “Kip’’ Allen, President of the PA League of Cities and Municipalities, Harrisburg
Gene Barr, Vice President, Government & Public Affairs, Pennsylvania
Chamber of Business and Industry, Harrisburg
Terry R. Bossert, Vice President, Government & Regulatory Affairs, Chief Oil & Gas, Harrisburg
Jeff Wheeland, Lycoming County Commissioner, Williamsport
Vincent J. Matteo, president Williamsport-Lycoming Chamber of Commerce, Williamsport
Terry Engelder, Professor of Geosciences, Penn State University, Department of Geosciences, University Park
Matthew J. Ehrhart, Executive Director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Pennsylvania Office, Harrisburg
Ronald L. Ramsey, Senior Policy Advisor, the Nature Conservancy, Pennsylvania Chapter, Harrisburg
David Porges, Chief Executive Officer, EQT, Pittsburgh
Christopher J. Masciantonio, General Manager, State Government Affairs, U.S. Steel, Pittsburgh
Cynthia Carrow, Vice President of Government & Community Relations,
Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, Pittsburgh
David Sanko, Executive Director of the PA State Association of Township
Supervisors, Enola
Dave Spigelmyer, Vice President, Government Relations, Chesapeake Energy, Canonsburg
Randy Smith, U.S. Government Affairs Manager, Exxon Mobil, Fairfax, VA
Ray Walker, Chairman, Marcellus Shale Coalition, Canonsburg
Chris Helms, NiSource Gas Transmission and Storage, Houston, TX
Terry Pegula, Delray Beach, FL
Jeff Kupfer, Chevron, Washington, D.C.
Gary Slagel, Chairman, PA Independent Oil & Gas Association, Wexford
Anthony S. Bartolomeo, Chairman, Pennsylvania Environmental Council, Philadelphia
Nicholas S. Haden, Vice President, Reserved Environmental Services, Mt. Pleasant

Read Governor Corbett’s Executive Order

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