A panel formed to study natural gas drilling policy for Pennsylvania has 120 days to deliver a report to Governor Tom Corbett.
The 30-member Marcellus Shale Commission will spend the next four months thinking up economic and regulatory policies to suggest to the governor. It held its first meeting in Harrisburg on Friday.
Addressing the most high-profile drilling issue, Lieutenant Governor and commission chair Jim Cawley said a severance tax is “off the table,” but noted the group will weigh the need for some sort of impact fee to address infrastructure damage. “If identifiable impacts to local government are enumerated, and there is costs that go with that, the governor has charged us with seeing ways in which we could help local governments meet those impacts,” he said.
A public comment period at the end of Friday’s meeting highlighted how divisive the drilling issue has become. Some of the speakers praised drilling’s economic impact on rural communities. Bradford County Commissioner Doug McLinko, a Republican, said drilling has contributed to “climate change” in his county. “The climate is, family farms are being saved. Shops – mom and pops are seeing so much prosperity that they’ve never seen before. You know, there’s the local impacts. There’s good and bad with everything, but as far as job creation, we led the state,” he said.
Nathan Sooy of Clean Water Action said drilling’s potential dangers, including water contamination, has caused environmental groups to beef up, as well. “You guys are creating jobs in my industry. There are more and more jobs to keep track of you guys. And I just wanted to let you know that,” he said. Other speakers questioned the panel’s pro-drilling makeup – a third of its members have ties to the energy industry – with one woman calling its members “cheerleaders” for extraction.
The day’s most emotional comments came from Wyoming County resident Joanne Fiorito, who told the commission drilling has “taken my American dream and ripped it apart.” “You haven’t seen the last of [me],” she said.
The commission holds its next meeting April 27th.