Citizens Marcellus group urges more safeguards

UPDATE: Citizens Marcellus group urges more safeguards

By Tim Stuhldreher

The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission this morning released a report calling for stronger protection of the environment and citizens’ rights from the natural gas drilling industry.

Ordinary Pennsylvanians believe state regulators “don’t have their back” when it comes to the Marcellus,commission co-chairman Dan Surra said.

“People believe their elected officials have let them down,” Commissioner Roberta Winters said.

The report makes more than 100 recommendations, Commissioner Thomas Au said. They center around four goals:

  • Protecting sensitive environmental areas.
  • Preventing air and water pollution.
  • Limiting water use and its impact.
  • Ensuring the rights of communities and landowners are respected.

Among the recommendations:

  • Extending a moratorium on further leasing of state forest land for drilling.
  • Ending the issuance of expedited permits and waiving environmental impact reviews.
  • Enacting a robust severance tax on drilling.
  • Banning the use of toxic chemicals in hydrofracking, the process used to free the gas from deep shale formations.

Commissioners said their report is intended as a counterpoint to Gov. Tom Corbett’sMarcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which they said consisted mostly of industry representatives and overly favored their viewpoint in its report released in July.

A coalition of environmental and public policy nonprofits formed the citizens group in August. Its findings are based on five hearings held around the state, plus comments received on its website.

Ongoing public input is welcome as Marcellus Shale policy is formed, said Chad Saylor, spokesman for Lt. Gov. James Cawley, who chaired the governor’s commission.

Gov. Corbett expects give-and-take with the legislature regarding his proposals, Saylor said. However, on the severance tax issue in particular, Corbett will stand firm, he said.

“A tax on this industry is a non-starter for him,” he said.

The citizens’ report fails to recognize existing regulations and “the ongoing fact-based dialogue around maximizing the economic and environmental benefits of clean-burning natural gas,” said Steve Forde, spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition industry group.

“We are optimistic that the groups involved in creating this report will at some point join us in this important effort,” Forde said.

NOTE: This item was updated from its original version to include comments from Lt. Gov. James Cawley’s office and from Steve Forde.

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