George: Scary Scenario for State Forests

(GantDaily Graphic)

HARRISBURG – State Rep. Camille “Bud” George, D-74 of Clearfield County, announced that Pennsylvania’s state forestlands – public and private – are under siege at a time when they need more protections.

“The Marcellus Shale drilling boom requires a commensurate uptick in safeguards to protect our natural resources and state treasures,” said George, Democratic chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “Instead, we are witnessing a catering to the natural gas industry and a rollback of needed protections.”

George said that state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources reviews on potential impacts of gas wells proposed for state forests and parks are no longer required.

“We need to maximize – not scuttle – our abilities to protect the lands owned by the citizens of Pennsylvania,” George said. “Gov. Corbett has promised to end the moratorium on drilling on state land – even though almost 725,000 acres already are leased – and the rollback of this needed brake on drilling is a step backward.”

George also questioned the timing of the review reversal, noting that Corbett has yet to name a new DCNR secretary.

“To reverse this policy when the agency’s top post has not been filled seems imprudent at best, especially when the previous DCNR secretary warns of ‘gaping holes’ in state agencies’ abilities to provide added protections for these valued lands.”

George said Pennsylvania produced 446 million gallons of Marcellus Shale drilling waste, including more than 291 million gallons of hydraulic fracturing fluid, in the last six months of 2010.

“We need to be addressing those impacts – how they affect our communities, infrastructure and natural resources – if natural gas is going to benefit the Commonwealth,” George said. “I am re-doubling my efforts for a responsible and fair severance tax on gas extraction, as well as implementation of my Land and Water Protection Act legislation.”

The soon-to-be-unveiled measures would provide money to local governments, environmental programs, jobs programs and infrastructure, as well as increased oversight during the drilling process and increased distances between gas wells and water supplies.

George said that amid the reports of undue influence on lawmakers by gas drillers’ campaign contributions and trips to the Super Bowl are proposals seemingly designed to short-circuit Pennsylvania’s oversight of gas drilling.

“A proposal in the state Senate would stop the state Department of Environmental Protection from requiring a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit for storm water discharges linked to activity by the oil and gas industry,” George said. “The industry would get a pass on the permit unless the activity contributes to a violation of water quality standards.

“What sense does it make to require a permit only after damage to water quality is confirmed?” George said.

A proposal in the state House would turn control over gas-lease revenues collected by state agencies to an “independent agency,” which would decide what percentage of funds would be returned to agencies like DCNR.

“Under this proposal, the DCNR would be converted into a cash cow and seemingly forced to promote increased drilling to provide funding for the agency,” George said. “The DCNR would be forced to cannibalize its mission to ensure its existence.

“All in all, 2011 is not starting well for the protection of Commonwealth resources or taxpayers.”

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