Chesapeake Bay Foundation Goes on Offense Against Drilling in the Marcellus Shale

The latest group to oppose drilling in the Marcellus Shale is the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (“CBF”), a private environmentalist organization that claims to be the largest such entity dedicated to preserving the health of the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Their stated mission is to “Save the Bay,” defined as attaining and maintaining clear water that is free of pollutants, and promoting oxygen levels in the Bay that support growth of underwater vegetation which in turn provides a habitat for sea creatures. The CBF’s concern is that drilling in the Marcellus Shale, much of which sits in the Chesapeake Bay watershed area, is already contributing and will continue to increase pollutants that flow into the Bay.

The CBF has gone on the offensive. CBF attorney and spokesperson Amy McDonnell wants to ensure Marcellus Shale drilling does not harm the Bay.

The foundation filed a petition – signed by a number of environmental groups and more than 120 businesses, organizations and elected officials – under the National Environmental Policy Act calling for a review. Foundation leaders believe the federal government should conduct a comprehensive federal analysis of drilling in the six bay watershed states – West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Delaware and Virginia.

McDonnell, representing the foundation, said current efforts by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to study the impact of shale drilling and fracking on drinking water do not go far enough.

The foundation would like one review that also takes into account the impact on groundwater, air pollution and other areas, she said.

"Nothing less than human health is also at stake," McDonnell added.(1)

The CBF, in their petition, asks the federal government to step in and regulate drilling in the Marcellus Shale. The petition states:

This petition requests that CEQ [Council on Environmental Quality] and the federal agencies, referenced above, involved with the drilling, extraction, transportation and combustion of natural gas in the Marcellus Shale take the following actions:

1. Undertake a cumulative impacts analysis to determine the effects that drilling in the Marcellus Shale region has on human health and the environment throughout the Chesapeake Bay states including, but not limited to, impacts to the air, water quality, forest land, national park land, wildlife habitat and ecosystems;

2. Issue a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement addressing the cumulative impacts and suggesting reasonable alternatives to mitigate negative impacts throughout the Chesapeake Bay states; and

3. Promulgate any necessary guidance and regulations based upon the findings in the PEIS and to comply with the mandates of Executive Orders 13508, 11514, 11991,and 13352.

Given the substantial and ever growing expansion of natural gas drilling, extraction, processing, and transportation in the Marcellus Shale region, we urge CEQ and these federal agencies to immediately address their responsibility to protect human health and the environment within the Chesapeake Bay states and to comply with NEPA by preparing a Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) and promulgating any necessary regulations.(2)

The petition addresses an alphabet soup of federal agencies and says, in essence, “Do your job.” And then they list how those agencies might go about regulating drilling at the federal level. The CBF recommends a four-part plan that can be employed to regulate Marcellus drilling:

  1. Use the power of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA)
  2. Use the power of the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ)
  3. Exploit the section of the NEPA law that requires all federal agencies to comply with regulations created by CEQ
  4. Use the power of previously issued Presidential Executive Orders currently in effect

Will this latest opposition stop or curtail drilling throughout the Marcellus region? Time will tell. President Obama paid lip service to the benefits of shale gas in his recent energy speech. But his Energy Blueprint contains a lot of “ands, ifs and buts” when it comes to shale gas drilling (see here for MDN’s analysis of the Obama speech and Blueprint).

Kathryn Klaber is not overly worried about the CBF’s petition and PR campaign:

Marcellus Shale Coalition President Kathryn Klaber believes McDonnell’s client, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, is just another organization opposed to natural gas drilling that seeks to slow development.

"While some opponents of environmentally responsible natural gas development continue to demand study after study, it’s fundamentally important to recognize the fact that this entire process is tightly and aggressively regulated … " Klaber said.(1)

(1) The Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register (Apr 5, 2011) – Group Wants EPA to Eye Gas Drilling

(2) Chesapeake Bay Foundation (Apr 4, 2011) – Legal Petition to Council on Environmental Quality (PDF)