Will There be New Marcellus Drilling Regulations Passed by the PA Legislature This Year?

Groups that oppose drilling in Pennsylvania, under the guise of “let’s be reasonable here,” have been proposing wish lists of new regulations for several years now. Some of their proposals make sense and should be carefully considered. But in considering their proposals, you must realize those organizations have ulterior motives—to completely ban gas drilling. It’s interesting to note their pronouncements lately have gone up an octave on the shrillness scale.

These groups could not get new legislation and regulations passed under Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat, with both houses of the PA legislature controlled by Democrats. So now that a Republican (Tom Corbett) is governor, someone they consider “in the pocket” of the drilling industry, and with both houses of the legislature controlled by Republicans, these groups say now is the time to reform the PA Oil and Gas Act. Something does not add up with this picture.

At any rate, according to press accounts, PA legislators are “closer than ever” to passing new laws that regulate drilling in the Marcellus Shale in the Keystone state.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation released a joint report last week, and PennEnvironment released recommendations May 5. They share suggestions that legislators say are popular in Harrisburg:

  • Shale wells should be at least 500 feet from buildings, drinking-water wells and high-quality waterways, up from the 200 feet permitted now.
  • Drillers should pay to test water wells within 2,500 feet of gas wells before drilling, and pay for new water supplies if those wells sour within a year.
  • Drillers should have to put up more than a single $25,000 bond for their wells statewide, guaranteeing money is there to pay for damage to roads and the environment, and to cap wells when they dry up.

All three groups released reports with similar recommendations in past years, but with little legislative success. Lawmakers hesitated last year because of the state budget impasse, the imminent departure of Gov. Ed Rendell and the General Assembly election, said John Walliser, vice president of legal and governmental affairs at the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.*

*Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (May 16, 2011) – Clamor increasing to regulate Marcellus shale gas drilling