Hazleton Standard Speaker
Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley challenged Schuylkill County’s newly formed Marcellus Shale task force to make recommendations to the county commissioners based on fact and not emotion regarding the county’s role in the future of the deep drilling industry.
“I would challenge you to get to the truth, get to the science, and paint the picture in a truthful way,” Cawley said Thursday, when he was a guest at an informal question-and-answer session held at the Schuylkill Chamber of Commerce.
Cawley commended the county for creating the task force to analyze effects of drilling by the natural gas industry — the 16th county to do so.
Also attending the gathering were chamber President Bill Wydra, county commissioners Mantura M. Gallagher and Frank J. Staudenmeier, county engineer Lisa Mahal, county grant writer Gary Bender, state Sen. Dave Argall, R-29; state Rep. Jerry Knowles, R-124; Mike Hanley, a representative of U.S. Rep. Tim Holden, D-17; Ed Kleha, representing state Rep. Neal P. Goodman, D-123, and Scott Thomas, a representative of state Rep. Mike Tobash, R-125.
Cawley, a former Bucks County commissioner, heads Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which was charged with developing policy recommendations on economic development and regulation of natural gas drilling.
Corbett formed the 30-member commission in March, giving them 120 days to develop recommendations on all aspects of natural gas drilling. The commission held 21 public meetings, heard 60 expert presentations and reviewed more than 650 emails and letters from the public.
“Rome wasn’t built in a day and you can’t study all of Marcellus Shale in 120,” Cawley said. “We did discover a lot.”
The state advisory commission released its final report July 22 containing 96 policy recommendations that include tougher regulations for drilling, doubling fines for violations, creating jobs in related industries and promoting the use of natural gas vehicles.
Cawley said the Corbett administration is ruling out a severance tax on the Marcellus Shale drilling industry, but is not ruling out an impact fee.
If a severance tax were implemented, Cawley said executives of the natural gas industry potentially could choose to do business elsewhere.
“We have to be sensitive to the fact that we can price ourselves right out of the market,” Cawley said.
Knowles said he has been witness to many discussions on Marcellus Shale which, he said, were based on misinformation.
“Putting a tax on it won’t solve all of our financial problems,” Knowles said. “I had the opportunity to visit a drilling site and I am firmly convinced it can be done safely.”
Kleha said a number of Goodman’s constituents are concerned that drilling would leave the county landscape worse than it all ready is.
“This area was raped and pillaged by the Industrial Revolution. Can you guarantee that what is left of this land will be returned to its natural order?” Kleha asked the lieutenant governor.
“I believe we have learned from the sins of our fathers, both in the timber and coal industries, and we will prohibit the irresponsibilities of the past,” Cawley said. “We are going to make provisions for things like that. We will take the appropriate steps to continue to be good stewards of the environment.”
Huge amounts of natural gas lie in the Marcellus Shale formation and are being developed in Northeastern Pennsylvania. No wells are yet planned for Schuylkill County, although Susan A. Smith, director of county planning and geographic information systems, told the task force at its first meeting June 15 that almost all of the county is in the Marcellus Shale area and one local landfill is accepting items from such activities.
“There is a Marcellus Shale in Schuylkill County but it is at a greater depth than what is being drilled now,” Mahal said Thursday.
Rausch Creek Land LP of Valley View filed paperwork with the county’s engineering office late last year, informing Schuylkill County of plans to withdraw up to 100,000 gallons of water daily from an abandoned stripping mine pit in Porter Township. The company said the purpose of the withdrawal is to provide water for future Marcellus Shale wells. It is unclear whether those wells would be in Schuylkill County. The water withdrawal plan must first be approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
The Schuylkill County commissioners established the 15-member county task force in May to identify key issues, conduct research, generate public awareness and review and recommend public policy regarding Marcellus Shale activities.
The task force previously stressed that county residents benefit from any economic development the natural gas industry could bring while minimizing potential problems such as pollution and traffic.
With respect to job creation, Cawley said that if a business sought to establish operations inside a municipality that results in the creation of jobs, the municipality would likely entice the business with tax breaks like the Keystone Opportunity Zone to seal the deal.
“This industry is going to do all that and is not asking for any of that,” Cawley said of the natural gas industry. “All they are asking for is predictability. Tell (them) what the rules are. That’s what they want more than anything else.”
Gallagher was concerned about how many Pennsylvanians were employed as a result of Marcellus Shale drilling, to which Cawley claimed up to 72 percent of the 72,000 jobs created by the drilling industry so far have gone to state residents.
“But that is not good enough. We are not satisfied,” he said of seven of 10 jobs going to state residents. “We want it to be 10 out of 10.”
With cuts made to the state budget, Gallagher also raised concern that proper training regarding the drilling industry would not be adequately funded.
Cawley said one of the state commission’s recommendations was to work with the industry to develop a standard curriculum to provide proper training, develop job-training assistance and certification programs for jobs in the industry, and develop educational material on natural gas for use in grade schools and high schools.
Cawley added that the state commission recommended developing a gas safety inspector training facility in Pennsylvania.
Also discussed Thursday was the impact truck traffic related to gas drilling might have on county roads.
Cawley said what the state has been seeing is that the industry itself has been repairing the damaged roads.
“They need roads with certain specifications in order to be able to drill for the gas,” Cawley said.
He said the state commission realized municipalities might incur additional expenses with hiring more police officers for traffic control or other employees to deal with drilling issues.
“Expenses come with industry, but we did not feel it appropriate to usurp the Legislature or executive to determine the appropriate way to handle the expenses,” he said.