Shale Panel will be Under Close Scrutiny

Pittsburgh Tribune Review
9 March 2011

Independent observers of the Marcellus shale industry in Pennsylvania said Tuesday that they will closely watch whether Gov. Tom Corbett's new advisory group accurately represents the various interests affected by proposed increases in natural-gas drilling.

The governor announced the formation of a 30-member Marcellus Shale Commission, led by Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, as part of his budget address yesterday.

"This (commission) is a great idea that should have been done years ago," said Conrad Volz, principal investigator for the University of Pittsburgh's Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. "My hope is that it will provide the proper public dialogue that needs to take place to deal with some of the really big issues related to (Marcellus shale) drilling that we will be facing in the future."

Corbett has asked the commission -- made up of representatives from state and local government, the drilling and energy industries, and environmental organizations -- to submit a final report with recommendations on development and regulation of the industry on or before July 22.

Volz said he believes the commission should pay special attention to the public health and environmental concerns that arise from increased drilling.

"One of the biggest issues is where will these drilling operations be allowed to locate," Volz said. "Will gas wells be allowed in close proximity to people's homes, near hospitals and around schools? There needs to be a very public discussion of how we handle drilling, especially near urban populations. Hopefully, this group will address these concerns."

Jan Jarrett, the Western Pennsylvania outreach coordinator for environmental group Penn Future, said having only four representatives from environmental organizations named to the commission creates a group "that is not very well balanced."

"There seems to be a great number of folks on the commission who are very much interested in seeing the (Marcellus shale) industry treated as tenderly as possible," said Jarrett, noting that in addition to only a handful of environmentalists, the commission has no members representing the state's hunting and fishing interests.

Despite the imbalance of representation, according to Jarrett, she believes the commission can produce a fair report by including minority viewpoints.

Kent F. Moors, director of Duquesne University's Energy Policy Research Group, said although the commission "is a rather large group," it should be able to provide Corbett with meaningful recommendations if its members remain independent.

"This is not just a business vs. environmentalist issue," Moors said. "And it should not be a situation where people are thinking 'my side wins.' They have to produce a genuinely collaborative series of recommendations that look at all of the implications that will be coming down as we move forward with drilling."

Commission members

Here are the people chosen to serve on Gov. Tom Corbett's newly formed Marcellus Shale Commission:

Tony LaRussa can be reached at or 412-320-7987.