Critz Forms Special Caucus on Marcellus Shale

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
15 March 2011
By Daniel Malloy, Post-Gazette Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON -- Aiming to educate colleagues and constituents, Rep. Mark Critz, D-Johnstown, is forming a special caucus on the Marcellus Shale natural gas play.

Joined by co-chair Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., Mr. Critz sent a letter last month to colleagues in Pennsylvania and nearby states that sit atop the Marcellus formation asking them to participate. The duo conceived the idea during a retreat for new members of Congress in January.

"We want to bring industry in and we want to bring in folks who are on the other side of the equation and get the full realm of the discussion going," Mr. Critz said. "Our goal mainly is to dispel any of the myths or untruths that are being talked about."

The "myths or untruths" mostly center on environmental concerns, Mr. Critz said, citing a recent New York Times article on potential radioactive contamination of Pennsylvania rivers that prompted a pushback from the state Department of Environmental Protection, which said its tests showed acceptable radiation levels.

Mr. Critz said he wants to explore: "What are the economic benefits? What are the benefits otherwise? These companies coming in, are they good community stewards?"

He said the caucus likely will stage field hearings in areas of heavy shale development, such as Western Pennsylvania, and it might consider legislation at some point.

The House already has a natural gas caucus, which is chaired by Reps. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, and Dan Boren, D-Okla., but Mr. Critz said this effort will be more focused on the regional issues at stake in shale drilling.

The most controversial federal initiative related to the industry is a proposal to have the Environmental Protection Agency supplant state agencies as the chief regulator of hydraulic fracturing natural gas production. Mr. Critz praised the work of the DEP, saying other states might not have as robust a regulator as Pennsylvania, and said it's worth having a debate about how much of a role EPA should play.

"We've seen environmental disasters and certainly we want to prevent that, but I think sometimes people get overzealous and there has to be a balance," he said.

So far, the group has nine members in addition to the co-chairs: Reps. Jason Altmire, D-McCandless; Bill Shuster, R-Blair; Lou Barletta, R-Hazelton; Tim Ryan, D-Ohio; David McKinley, R-W.Va.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va; Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.; Steve Stivers, R-Ohio; and Bill Johnson, R-Ohio.

Mr. McKinley announced his membership in the group with a news release, in which he said he hoped it would be a check on the Obama administration.

"Before Washington liberals and EPA bureaucrats rush to judgment, it is necessary we weigh all the scientific data before over-regulating natural gas production -- as the Obama administration has done with coal," he said. "I also understand that landowners and other local families have concerns about development. That's why we formed this caucus -- as an arena for measured debate over the Marcellus Shale and its potential for responsibly creating new jobs and opportunities for West Virginia and other states."

Daniel Malloy: or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.