The Final Report: Citizen's Take Marcellus Development Seriously

The Citizen's Marcellus Shale Commission (CMSC) released their final report today. The commission, headed by 16 people from different social and economic sectors and representing diverse interests including the League of Women's Voters, Clean Water Action, the Housing Alliance of Pennsylvania, and others, held 5 hearings across the state in August and September. Unlike the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, the Citizen's version was never accused of being an industry front group.

Most briefly stated, Pennsylvanians believe that Marcellus development is being done wrong and it needs to be done better. From water contamination to truck traffic, wildlife encroachment to health and medical concerns from air pollution, and corporate profiteering and a lack of government oversight, Pennsylvania citizens told the commission that they expect better.

The commission compiled, reviewed, and analyzed comments from 400 citizens and came up with many recommendations. These include standards like setting up a severance tax on the industry, placing a moratorium on new drilling in unleased state forest land and no drilling in state parks, and "perform a comprehensive cumulative impact analysis of existing and likely proposed industrial development."

Many regulations need to be broadened, deepened, and toughened. Some include increasing the distance that wells can be from schools to 3,000 feet from occupied structures and 5,000 from schools, child care programs, and hospitals. Others extend to waste water treatment, one going so far as to recommend eliminating the use of "toxic chemicals in all hydraulic fracturing operations." That's a tall order but one that will no doubt please many citizens concerned with the compound threats to public health and environmental integrity. Broadly speaking, the report recommends adoption of "best practice" measures across the board to minimize pollution and maximize retention of gas and water.

Three recommendations stuck out to me in particular. The first protects local home rule, including enacting "local ordinances on zoning...should not be abridged." Given some recent dust-ups in Warren, Mount Pleasant, Rush Township, and State College on issues of home rule, zoning, regulation, or community bills of rights, this comes at an interesting time. [Full disclosure: Peter Buckland of Sustainability Now is involved with promoting the State College Community Bill of Rights.]

The second and third are linked. Second, "Make industry pay its fair share...Ensure proper bonding and clean-up requirements are in place for all well sties and facilities, with an escrow fund established for unintended consequences to public health and the environment." Second, they recommend a "health registry and data base to track illnesses in drilling communities, use pre-existing data gathered in other states where appropriate. Adequate funding must be supplied to the PA Department of Health to cover the costs of creating a health registry." Put semantic battles about "unintended consequences" aside for just a moment and consider what this means. This would change something about environmental and public enforcement that has lacked in Pennsylvania for some time.

It seems something like this:
Excraction industries have harmed public health and the environment before.
Extraction industries have not paid their fair share for that harm.
Harming industries should pay for their damage.
The Marcellus natural gas industries, like other extractive industries, will harm public health and the environment.
Before they get going any further, they should be paying for those public health and environmental harms directly and through investment.
The report actually places the financial burden on the gas industry. It's not quite the precautionary principle, but it is a step toward the actual protection of people and their places instead of corporate profits and the lobbyists walking the halls in Harrisburg or manning the governor's commission.

This blog has only scratched the surface. I definitely recommend reading the general and specific recommendations by going to this link.

My question is, Will citizens take this to their supervisors, commissioners, legislators, and the governor for better action? Will you?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the update Peter. It's good to know the people have been given a voice through this process. I only hope this report results in real impacts on PA laws and regulations!