HARRISBURG – State Rep. Camille “Bud” George, chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, said the incident at a Marcellus Shale gas-drilling site in Clearfield County underscores the need for Pennsylvania to update its environmental safeguards.
“Local and state officials did a wonderful job responding to a very dangerous situation that fortunately did not cause any injuries or deaths,” said Rep. George, D-74 of Houtzdale. “I have said for many months that extraction of any natural resource comes with risks and costs and I only wish I had not been proved correct so quickly and so close to home.”
George said that he was informed that workers lost control of the new well at about 8 p.m. Thursday after encountering gas under very high pressure. Gas and a reported 1 million gallons or more of brine, including fracking fluid, escaped from the EOG Resources well drilled off McGeorge Road in Lawrence Township.
Emergency management personnel and first responders from Clearfield County coordinated efforts with the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency and the state Department of Environmental Protection.
By 8 a.m. Friday, officials from the State Police, the state Fish and Boat Commission and the state Departments of Conservation and Natural Resources and Transportation joined the effort. By around noon Friday, the well was capped.
According to the DEP, there was limited risk of explosion and the flow-back water had been contained and posed no hazards to the local streams. As a precaution, a no-fly zone was established in the area, and roads leading to the site were blocked.
“This dangerous situation should prompt the Pennsylvania Legislature to move more promptly on my House Bill 2213, which would require disclosure of the precise chemical concentrations in the fracking fluids,” George said. “This can be crucial information in emergencies such as this.”
Approved by the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee on May 25, HB 2213 also would:
– Require a permit before a well can be developed;
– Bolster the DEP’s authority to deny well permits because of outstanding violations and to suspend drilling for serious violations;
– Update set-back requirements for water sources and high-quality and exceptional value streams;
– Require the DEP to inspect Marcellus well sites during crucial drilling phases;
– Increase potential civil penalties from $25,000 to $100,000 and potential daily fines for continuous violations from $1,000 to $10,500 a day;
– Extend to 2,500 feet, from 1,000 feet, the presumed liability of a well polluting a water supply;
– Update bonding requirements to cover the costs of decommissioning a well;
George said that Pennsylvania also needs a severance tax on gas drillers that devotes revenues to environmental stewardship and agencies charged with responding to incidents such as the one in Clearfield County.
“Giving the gas industry a free ride at the expense of Pennsylvania taxpayers, water resources, roads and economy is a poor deal for everyone but the gas industry,” George said. “We have a responsibility to insist on responsibility.”
Last year, the state House approved language from George’s HB 1489 that would have created a fair contract with the gas industry for its profitable ventures in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale gas deposit. The language was scuttled in the state Senate.
George said the severance tax is projected to generate roughly $600 million annually by 2013-14 and would distribute the revenues as follows:
-60 percent to the General Fund;
– 15 percent to the Environmental Stewardship Fund;
– 5 percent to the Liquid Fuels Tax Fund;
– 4 percent to the Hazardous Sites Cleanup Fund;
– 3 percent for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, LIHEAP;
– 4.5 percent to municipalities where natural gas is extracted;
– 4.5 percent to counties where natural gas is extracted;
– 2 percent each to the state Game and Fish and Boat commissions.