Friday, May 11, 2012

Over coffee and pastry, talk about Pa's gas-drilling law

In the community room above McCaffrey's Supermarket in Lower Makefield (Bucks County), more than 60 constituents listened politely over coffee and pastry as their freshman state representative yesterday morning started ticking off the current hot news topics at the State Capitol in Harrisburg--the budget, infrastructure, education and taxes.

But the attendees, dominated by retirees, appeared to focus their attention when former attorney-turned-school teacher Steve Santarsiero (D-31) got around to one of his favorite topics--shortcomings that he and fellow House Democrats see in Act 13, the new state law governing natural-gas drilling operations in the Marcellus Shale.

Last week, Santarsiero and his colleagues announced a six-point legislative package, dubbed the Marcellus Compact, which they claimed would "put Pennsylvanians first" rather than "the oil and gas industry for whom, and by whom, Act 13 was written."

The Democrats provided a fact sheet explaining their package and a chart that they said illustrated the differences between the current law and the changes they'd like to make.

In the five-minute video above filmed at yesterday's breakfast meeting, Santarsiero summarizes what he finds lacking in Act 13 which was pushed through the General Assembly by Republican majorities and signed by Republican Governor Tom Corbett, an ardent supporter of the drilling industry. 

Following his presentation, Santarsiero fielded questions on a number of topics but the perceived environmental risks posed by gas fracking drew more audience comments than any other.

Santarsiero posed and answered a question others might raise. Why would Bucks County residents care about natural gas drilling and its controversial hydrofracturing technique when the Marcellus Shale formation lies so many miles from their communities?

It's because the Delaware River is the primary source of drinking water for 15 million people downstream, he said, including many in Bucks County.

And, while gas drilling is proceeding at an active pace in other sections of the state, a moratorium in the state's northeast could be lifted as soon as any one of the representatives on the Delaware River Basin Commission from New York, Delaware or the federal government changes their vote to side with Pennsylvania and New Jersey which stand ready to approve the drilling.

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What do you think about Pennsylvania's drilling law? Are Democrats just playing politics, or are Republican leaders being overly generous to the drilling industry? Anything else bother you about the issue? Let us know in the opinion box below. If one is not visible, activate it by clicking on the tiny 'comments' link. 

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