BY ROBERT SWIFT
HARRISBURG BUREAU CHIEF, The Daily Review
Published: Friday, July 3, 2009 3:16 AM EDT HARRISBURG — Two measures to protect water supplies from contamination by drilling for natural gas deposits in the Marcellus Shale formation were approved Wednesday by a House committee.
The action by the Environmental Resources and Energy Committee is a first step in addressing one of the major environmental issues that have surfaced since drilling firms employed new technology such as hydraulic fracking to reach the deep gas pockets in the Marcellus Shale underlying much of Northeast and Northcentral Pennsylvania.
These bills still face lengthy debate with floor votes in the House and approval by the Senate before they would become law. They seek to update provisions of a state law enacted in 1984 in response to an earlier natural gas drilling boom in Northwest Pennsylvania.
Rep. Tina Pickett, R-110, Towanda, sponsored one bill, passed 21-5, to mandate testing of a water supply before and after drilling has occurred, expand the distance where pollution of a water supply is presumed to be caused by a drilling operation from 1,000 feet to 2,000 feet and extend the period when a landowner can claim damage to their water supply from six months to two years.
Pickett said she sponsored the bill in response to methane contamination problems in private wells in Dimock Twp. in Susquehanna County earlier this year. The state Department of Environmental Protection cited Cabot Oil and Gas Co. for allowing natural gas to enter groundwater in the Carter Road area.
“I’ve learned the good and bad of the current law,” Pickett told panel members.
She said smaller landowners have a difficult time under the current law proving how water contamination occurred.
Panel chairman Camille George, D-74, Houtzdale, sponsored the second bill labeled the “Surface Owners Protection Act.” George’s bill would require drillers to notify landowners 15 days before a driller enters leased property and 45 days before drilling begins and provide information about planned operations.
Other provisions would require drillers in many cases to provide compensation to landowners for property damages and to reclaim surface land affected by drilling within nine months after well production ceases. This bill passed 15-11 mainly along party lines.
Four Northeast Pennsylvania lawmakers on the panel, Reps. Mike Carroll, D-118, Hughestown; Tim Seip, D-125, Pottsville; Jim Wansacz, D-114, Old Forge and John Yudichak, D-119, Nanticoke, voted for both bills.
Rep. Scott Hutchinson, R-64, Oil City, ranking Republican on the panel, criticized George’s bill for drastically altering long-established laws governing property and mineral rights.
He urged a delay in action on Pickett’s bill in order to allow more study of how current state laws are faring.
(Have you ever heard a more ridiculous reason!???)