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Kate Sinding’s Blog

Pennsylvania’s Natural Gas Regulators Starting to Smell the Coffee?

Kate Sinding

Posted May 4, 2010 in Curbing Pollution

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“Quite frankly, the citizens of this state are being played for chumps."

So said John Quigley, Secretary of Conservation and Natural Resources for Pennsylvania at a Marcellus Shale Policy Conference sponsored over the past two days by Duquesne University and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

Said John Hanger, Commissioner of the Department of Environmental Protection: “Let me be clear: Self regulation doesn't work. That's not contestable. We've made mistakes before. We have to get this right or the costs will overwhelm the benefits.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer described the officials’ comments as “part of a coordinated effort by Gov. Rendell's administration to build public support for the legislature to impose greater oversight on the [gas] industry.”

Sounds like the “what didn’t go wrong?” experience in Dimock and other horror stories from Pennsylvania – where drilling in the Marcellus Shale has been proceeding apace – are starting to sink in with the state’s regulators.

Regulators in other gas drilling states should sit up sharply and take notice – particularly in New York, where there is still an opportunity to figure out whether it is possible, and if so how, to rigorously regulate gas production to properly protect human health and the environment.

As the horrifying experience in the Gulf of Mexico demonstrates, we cannot be too careful when it comes to domestic fossil fuel development.  The costs when things go awry can be both devastating and lasting.

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Comments

Mary SweeneyMay 5 2010 02:22 AM

Kate Sinding notes, above: "Regulators in other gas drilling states should sit up sharply and take notice – particularly in New York, where there is still an opportunity to figure out whether it is possible, and if so how, to rigorously regulate gas production to properly protect human health and the environment."

There has been one red flag after another telling us that rushing ahead with shale gas drilling in New York would be extremely irresponsible. I don't think that the New York DEC ever gave any serious consideration to the question of whether it is even possible to drill for shale gas while protecting the environment and the health of the public, and yet, that is THE central question in this whole shale gas issue.

Before that question can be answered, we need a lot more data than we currently have. Right now we do not even know what a truly "safe" setback from homes and water sources would be. New York should continue to hold off on the drilling, and other states where it is being allowed should give very serious consideration to putting on the brakes before we see a tragic onshore accident similar to the offshore accident in the Gulf. Everything I have seen so far makes me think that these gas wells do not belong in our communities close to our homes, schools, and water sources.

Peter CrownfieldMay 5 2010 06:58 AM

Thanks for this update. Remember, though, that DCNR is usually more tuned in to environmental protection than DEP.

If this represents a shift by the administration, that's great. Can they get the Republican-controlled state senate to help protect our water resources?

Legislators don't seem to take their oath of office as seriously as they do the requests of their contributors.

Roy GothieMay 5 2010 11:41 AM

Pennsylvania, through its extension service, is attempting to educate land owners on the process of leasing their land to the natural gas companies. However, the risks seem to be severely under-emphasized and the fifty thousand dollar bond against damages put up by the gas companies is unfortunately described as “standard”. Nobody at the meetings seemed interested in answering exactly how much money would really be required to clean up a serious accident or provide water to a community whose supply is permanently polluted. Pennsylvania needs to do more than smell the coffee.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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