Law on gas drilling still in flux, public told

Date: March 22, 2010

A panel offers an update on legislation, which turns out to center on money.

By Rory Sweeney rsweeney@timesleader.com
Staff Writer

BENTON – With interest increasing in drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, there\’s a whole swirl of legislation related to it being considered in Harrisburg, but much of it comes down to money.

“A lot of what goes on in Harrisburg is who\’s gonna pay to make the pie and who\’s going to get a piece,” said state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming. “The fight is how we\’re going to divide up the pie. … We want to see the Commonwealth get its fair share, but we also don\’t want to … go New York on them and drive them away.”

Everett was among two other representatives – Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, and David Millard, R-Columbia – who spoke on Thursday evening at a meeting of the Columbia County Landowners Coalition.

A state Department of Environmental Protection official and a Penn State University educator were also on the panel.

Everett described the intention and status of nearly 20 bills throughout the legislature, noting that they fit into four categories: taxation and where the money goes, water protection, access to information and surface-owner rights.

While some likely won\’t ever see a vote, Everett said a few will probably pass this session, including a bill that would require companies to release well production information within six months instead of the current five years.

He said a tax on the gas extraction also seems likely “at some point.”

For the most part, the industry received a pass at the meeting, with most comments favorable. One woman suggested companies might underreport the amount of gas they take out and questioned what\’s being done to help landowners keep them honest.

Dave Messersmith of Penn State suggested that an addendum to each lease should be the opportunity for an annual audit of the company\’s logs.

Robert Yowell, the director of the DEP\’s north-central regional office, said the rush to drill in the shale happened so quickly that DEP is still trying to catch up with regulations. Likewise, he said, companies are still becoming acquainted with differences here from where they\’re used to drilling.

“When they first came to town, I don\’t think they realized how widely our streams fluctuated,” he said.

He added some public perceptions need to be changed – such as the belief that people aren’t naturally exposed to radiation all the time – and that he felt confident that “this can be done safely.”

In response to contamination issues in Dimock Township in Susquehanna County, DEP is upgrading and standardizing its requirements for well casings, Everett said. He added that it\’s being suggested the contamination in might have been caused by “odd geology.”

“Every time humans do anything, there\’s an impact on the land,” he said. “We just need to balance this right so that we end up with something we\’re happy with when we\’re done.”

Rory Sweeney, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 970-7418.

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