Imperfect Bill Will Help Prevent Fracking Damage

Senator Lisa Baker
Pocono Record

After months of meetings, site visits and public forums, and thousands of phone calls, letters and emails, I well understand the conflicting views in our area, of the extensive environmental concerns on one side and the hopes for economic benefits of natural gas drilling on the other side.

Senate Bill 1100, the Senate version of a natural gas drilling regulation bill, contains a number of proposals I have worked on over the course of the last few years regarding community and environmental protections, including:

  • Establishing deeper setbacks from wells and water sources, expanding groundwater monitoring and requiring notification to the operators of public drinking water systems: Sections 3215, 3218, 3218.4. (Senate Bill 1452)
  • Giving access to locational information needed by emergency responders: Section 3218.3. (Senate Bill 995)
  • Raising the standards for operators of wastewater treatment facilities: Section 3218 (g). (Senate Bill 996)
  • Placing gathering lines under Pennsylvania’s One Call system: Section 3218.6. (Senate Bill 1228)

There is also a need to increase state safety inspection and oversight of gas pipelines and for a registry of Class 1 rural gathering lines that are prevalent in our area and becoming more numerous. This issue is being treated separately from Senate Bill 1100. A few weeks ago, my Senate Bill 325 was added to a similar House bill that we expect to become law in the near future.

In recent weeks, one of the more contentious items discussed related to the pre-emption of local zoning. During debate on Senate Bill 1100, I voted in favor of an amendment that would have preserved local zoning powers as they currently exist. Unfortunately, that amendment failed by a vote of 22-27.

The current version of the bill contains an approach modeled one on used to resolve agricultural zoning disputes. An operator will have to request an attorney general review to determine if a local ordinance allows for the reasonable development of oil and gas based on the state Municipalities Planning Code and court cases. I will continue to work with the various local government organizations to address any outstanding concerns.

Many people want to see taxes imposed on drilling companies or a fee structure set much higher. The problem is that approving a bill likely to be vetoed by the governor would delay the receipt of additional funds for our communities and set back the implementation of the standards and protections contained in Senate Bill 1100.

Some have erroneously criticized Senate Bill 1100 for lack of funding to contiguous communities impacted by, but not hosting, drilling. The fact is that money is set aside for all county conservation districts, which play a key role in overseeing pipeline development.

The bill also provides funding for training for emergency responders across the state through the Office of the State Fire Commissioner, as well as the purchase of specialized equipment for individual departments. I am pushing for additional dollars to support other impacts in these counties.

This proposal is not the final answer. The House recently approved an entirely different version. Many of its provisions are less acceptable to people in our area; some of its provisions would be preferable to those contained in the Senate-passed bill. In the weeks ahead, these differences will have to be negotiated and a consensus bill developed. During this time, I will continue to call for further community and environmental protections.

There is still a crucial role to be played by public input, up until the time a bill is sent to the governor. Constituent views matter to me, whether they agree or disagree with my vote.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-20, represents Middle Smithfield and Price townships in Monroe County, all of Wayne, Pike and Wyoming counties and parts of Luzerne and Susquehanna counties.

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