Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Who will have Corbett's ear on Marcellus gas drilling?

PA Gov-elect Tom Corbett
Amidst the inauspicious elements of snow and freezing rain today in Harrisburg, Tom Corbett, using a bible once owned by William Penn, will take the oath of office and become Governor of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

We hope Billy Penn's bible brings Mr. Corbett luck. He'll need some as he takes charge of a state  which, like its neighbors, New Jersey and New York, faces stormy economic challenges.

The 61-year-old former state Attorney General, however, enjoys some advantages. His party controls both houses of the Legislature and, if they're willing, can help him make difficult but needed changes.

His true ace in the hole (also shared by New York's new governor) is Pennsylvania's prime location smack dab on top of the bountiful Marcellus Shale deposit. That rockbound strata of natural gas abounding has attracted a veritable army of gas drillers who promise to create thousands of jobs and pump millions of dollars into the local and state economies.

John Hanger, who led the state Department of Environmental Protection in the latter years of   Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's tenure, left a 5,000-word report when he cleaned out his office last week. In it, he agreed that natural gas production already is delivering benefits.
"Natural gas prices are low and not increasing, unlike oil and coal prices that have increased sharply as the global economy recovers. Shale production is lowering heating bills that as recently as 2008 were devastating to even middle income families who faced gas costs of $13 for a thousand cubic feet as opposed to the current $4 to $5 for a thousand cubic feet. Gas leases on private lands and royalty payments have enabled farmers to keep farms; homeowners to keep homes; and more good things. New jobs have been created. All these benefits are real and important."
But Hanger also noted that those benefits come with risks.
"Marcellus gas drilling is an industrial activity. It cannot be done without any impact on the environment. Gas drilling must be regulated by professional, independent regulators or cops who reasonably enforce strong rules, and their must be enough regulators to provide real oversight for even strong rules make no difference if they are not enforced. Good gas drilling companies welcome this approach, because they recognize the vital role of oversight and accountability to safe operations and environmental protection as well as maintaining critical public confidence."

Will Pennsylvania's new regulations that address gas well placements and installations and the handling and treatment of fracking wastewater be enforced? Really enforced? Thoroughly and efficiently enforced (to borrow a phrase from New Jersey's education debate)?

That of course, depends on how tough Governor Corbett wants to be with an industry that chipped in a ton of money to help him get elected.

Actually, other than a nice thank-you note and maybe an invitation to his inaugural party, the governor does not owe the gas companies a thing--other than to see that they are treated fairly by state regulators. The rest is up to the gas companies. The rules they are operating under are not excessive, and there's ample opportunity for them to make plenty of money while still operating in a way that respects the health and safety of their neighbors and Pennsylvania's environment.

Some companies no doubt will look to skimp a bit here and there, to treat environmental stop signs like they are amber warning lights and, when nabbed, to expect the DEP to issue stern warnings but little else.

The new sheriffs in charge at the DEP should set them straight from the get-go.

One of the state's leading environmental organizations PennFuture, had nice things to say about Michael Krancer, who Mr. Corbett has selected to lead the DEP and about John Hines, a DEP veteran who will serve as Mr. Krancer's deputy. We hope that they--and their boss--are up to the  challenge. 
William Penn

We wish Governor Corbett the best of luck. When times get tough and the gas industry starts whining and wheedling, we hope he'll remember whose Bible he used on that miserably wintry day when he swore an oath to protect the Commonwealth and all its inhabitants.


Corbett takes reins of power today

Corbett picks Krancer, Alexander for cabinet posts
Corbett names Michael Krancer as DEP chief

Corbett taps Bryn Mawr lawyer to head DEP

DEP Secretary John Hanger offers parting words

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  1. This was a good and well written article about both sides of the issue. I am all for clean energy but not at the expense of our environment. I spent 30 years and many millions of dollars with the Department of Environmental Protection cleaning up old contaminated sites throughout the Commonwealth under DEP's Environmental Cleanup Program. These enormously expensive cleanups were the results of my parent's, grandparent's and greatgrandparent's generations of industrial development and the lack of understanding of the tremendous impact it would have on our environment. Our children and grandchildren will be facing a huge national deficit. Is our legacy to them going to be an additional bill for billions in environmental cleanup and large, unusable tracts of land in Pennsylvania? There really IS a balance between clean energy sources and environmental protection. Let's hope we've learned some lessons from the Superfund generation.


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