Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Moratorium on new drill permits sought

Mundy proposes pause
By Andrew M. Seder aseder@timesleader.com
Times Leader Staff Writer
June 22, 2010

LEHMAN TWP. – State Rep. Phyllis Mundy on Monday told a cadre of natural gas drilling opponents that she would introduce two bills and one resolution later this week to help protect public water supplies and strengthen laws governing gas drilling during a proposed moratorium on the issuing of new drilling permits. ...

click image to enlarge

State Rep. Phyllis Mundy, right, announces co-sponsorship of three pieces of legislation intended to ‘better protect the public health and safety’ in regard to Marcellus Shale drilling at a press conference Monday morning in Lehman Township. BILL TARUTIS/for the times leader

Mundy told a crowd of about 75, many holding signs and wearing shirts with slogans advocating for a freeze on drilling and urging Harrisburg to take regulatory action, of her intentions. They cheered and applauded at what they heard.

“As a representative of the people and longtime advocate for the environment, I am deeply concerned about the potential for harm from drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process,” Mundy said. “While I certainly recognize the benefits that Marcellus Shale drilling is bringing to landowners and to our local economy, I also recognize the threat of irreparable harm that it poses without appropriate legislative, regulatory and monetary safeguards in place.”

One bill would amend current law to prohibit companies from drilling wells within 2,500 feet of a primary source of supply for a community water system, such as a lake or reservoir. The current state restriction is only 100 feet.“Thousands of my constituents rely on Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs for drinking water. Contamination of one or both would equate to a serious public health crisis,” Mundy said. “This bill seeks to protect our community water supplies to prevent such a disaster from taking place.”

A second bill calls for establishing a one-year moratorium on the issuance of new natural gas drilling permits. Mundy also is working on a resolution that calls on the U.S. Congress to repeal a provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts oil and gas drilling industries from restrictions on hydraulic fracturing operations located near drinking water sources, a provision known as the “Halliburton Loophole.”

The Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals Act also would require oil and gas industries to disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals and chemical constituents. That information currently is considered proprietary to the company.

Mundy’s bills are in the process of garnering co-sponsors, and she said they should be introduced later this week.

“Given the speed and breadth of the industry, government is currently at a severe disadvantage to fully evaluate the implications of dangerous drilling so close to home,” Mundy said. “This package of bills will help us begin the long overdue task of properly regulating Marcellus Shale drilling in our state.”

Mundy said that “for some, it’s all about the money, the jobs, the economic development. For me it’s about the quality of life. Go to Dimock and tell me that jobs and money are the most important thing.” The reference to the small Susquehanna County community was understood by those listening, as it has become the poster child in the region for problems in gas drilling.

Gas seepage spread into nearby water wells in Dimock, affecting drinking water for about a dozen homes, and in 2008, methane buildup caused a water well to explode.

The state Department of Environmental Protection earlier this year ordered Cabot Oil & Gas Corp. to close and remove an earthen pit that holds drilling fluids. The black water had impacted a private unused drinking water well, a wetland and two springs, DEP said.

Mundy said 3,100 well permits have been issued statewide, and while her proposal would not halt operations at those sites, it would temporarily stop new permitting and give the General Assembly more time to enact regulatory protections.

“The moratorium would provide us with the time we need to better understand and address scores of unresolved issues,” she said. But she said many representatives and senators have been “very slow to react” and are worried about curtailing an industry that shown signs of creating jobs, generating work in areas that desperately need it and bringing money to property owners.

“Many of my colleagues see this as a job issue,” Mundy said, raising a warning that she will need help getting a majority of state House and Senate members on board.

Michelle Boice, of Harveys Lake, spoke up from the back of the crowd, and urged those who could hear her to “get busy and contact every state official and start yelling and demanding for a moratorium.”

This means YOU, Pennsylvania! -Splashdown

One of Mundy’s colleagues who heard the message loud and clear and said he favors all three of Mundy’s measures is state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre Township.

Pashinski, who was in the crowd Monday, said the Legislature has a chance now to do something that in hindsight it perhaps should have done earlier.

“No one knew of the dangers involved in the fracking process,” Pashinski said. He said that until very recently he was unaware of just how many permits had been issued and how close well sites are to drinking water supplies.

“What happened is the floodgates opened,” he said. “I don’t think any of us knew how many well sites were leased out. The oil companies had a head start. What we’re trying to do is pull back the reins … put a hold on this. Let’s evaluate wherever we’re lacking and let’s address it.”

Dr. Tom Giunta, a podiatrist from Lehman Township and founder of the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said “legislation is too little too late” and called for a complete end to drilling, not just a moratorium on additional drilling. John Nowak Sr., of Lake Township, held up a sign asking motorists to “honk your horn to stop the gas drilling.” Quite a few drivers heeded his plea during the 45-minute event. He said about half of those gathered around him were new faces to him at events. He said it shows the message is getting out, the public is becoming better educated and residents were finding their voice.

Mundy is the third local legislator this past month to announce she is preparing bills related to the gas drilling.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, on Friday said she plans to introduce legislation that will provide additional protections for public drinking water supplies, as the natural gas drilling industry continues to grow in Pennsylvania. ...

“I am introducing this legislation to put additional safeguards in place for the drinking water sources we all share and on which we rely. As we have seen from the catastrophe in the gulf, once an accident occurs, it is difficult to restore our natural resources. I believe the best approach is to proceed with caution.”

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, announced she is preparing a trio of bills with the same intent as Boback.

In order to protect aquifers and determine any adverse consequences attributable to drilling, one bill would require testing at three times – before drilling, at the completion of drilling and six months afterwards – at three different depths. A second bill would rule out drilling at sites too close to drinking water sources such as reservoirs. A third bill would require DEP to ensure that the operators of wastewater treatment facilities are properly trained and sufficiently monitored to lessen the chances of human error creating a major problem.

LINK to complete article.


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