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July 25, 2011

A new government report may change the future of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale.

Pennsylvania Lt. Governor Jim Crawley has released the final report given to him by the Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee, calling it the “first step toward developing a comprehensive and strategic plan for responsible natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania.”

As a natural gas drilling boom in the Marcellus Shale formation under Pennsylvania occurred over the last ten years, residents near drilling operations have increasingly complained illnesses, air quality problems and pollution of waterways, property and water supplies with methane, hydraulic fracturing fluids and produced water.

In response, Governor Corbett formed the Marcellus Shale Advisory Committee in March 2011 with an Executive Order and mandated they submit a report within 120 days.

In developing the recommendations of the report, the Commission viewed 60 presentations by experts, 100 presentations by citizens, held 20 public meetings and read more than 650 emails and letters from the public.

In the end, the Commission submitted 96 recommendations to the Governor, including stronger regulations to protect water supplies including:

  • Increasing setback of wells from streams, ponds and other bodies of water from 100 feet to 300 feet.
  • Increasing setback of wells from private water wells from 200 feet to 500 feet.
  • Increasing setback of wells from public water systems to 1000 feet.
  • Expanding drillers presumed liability for water well contamination from 1,000 feet to 2,500 feet.

They also recommended tougher penalties for drilling violations, expanding disclosure of information to the public, creation of a health registry to monitor and track drilling related illnesses and establishment of programs to teach people of the potential health impacts.

In preparation for emergency situations that can occur at well sites, such as a blowout, the Commission wants development of emergency response plans and specialized training for local emergency responders.

Under the Commission’s plan, the state would have the authority to make drillers pay for the impact their drilling may have on a community, including roads, social and emergency services, health monitoring and environmental remediation.

A summary of the Commission’s report also lists ways to increase natural gas use and create jobs in the state related to natural gas development and use.

“Today, Pennsylvania is taking an important, first step toward creating tens of thousands of jobs and leading the nation toward energy independence and doing so in an environmentally responsible way,” said Cawley. “This commission brought the industry, environmental groups and local government leaders together to the same table where we methodically and publicly worked out these comprehensive recommendations.”

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