Drill Team: Pennsylvania Needs Smart Rules with Gas Reserves

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
8 December 2008

Jobs are drying up, states are losing tax revenue and everybody's looking for a payday -- in Pennsylvania and neighboring states -- from the untapped natural gas in the Marcellus Shales reserve.

Not that it will be a game-changer to an economy mired in recession, but a growth industry promising new jobs through gas wells drilled 5,000 to 8,000 feet underground couldn't hurt. In the headlong rush, however, by drilling companies and public and private land owners to make money off the 516 trillion cubic feet of natural gas lying under this multistate region, states should not abide the plundering of the landscape.

That's why the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection would be wise to heed the warning sounded by 13 environmental and sportsmen's groups. On their minds is the need for adequate regulation that, while welcoming the new commercial activity, addresses water use and disposal, two environmental issues posed by such drilling.

Groups like Clean Water Action, the Sierra Club, PennFuture, Trout Unlimited and others raised questions to the state Department of Environmental Protection about the large amounts of water needed by drillers to fracture the shale and release the gas. Sometimes streams end up being drained or waterways become fouled with untreated discharges from the process.

DEP said many of the concerns were addressed in a water management plan adopted by the agency in August and a new permit requirement added in September. But only careful oversight can ensure compliance, and even DEP admits it needs more staff.

All the groups want are sensible rules that are followed by the companies -- not regulations that will kill drilling activity. In a state where both clean water and good jobs have value, there is nothing wrong with that.

First published on December 8, 2008