Marcellus Shale Drilling:
Commission Recommends a More Environmentally Friendly Process
ELIZABETH BUCKMAN/CBF STAFF
By Tom Pelton
Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission’s report, released in July, recommends steps to
better protect streams, rivers, and drinking water supplies from chemical spills and runoff pollution.
BF participated in a Pennsylvania drilling
advisory commission that is recommending
steps to better protect our streams, rivers, and
drinking water supplies from chemical spills
and runoff pollution associated with drilling for
Governor Tom Corbett created the Gover-
nor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission
to review the impacts of the hydraulic frac-
turing for natural gas in the state’s Marcel-
lus Shale region. On July 22 the panel
released a 137-page report that includes
almost 100 policy recommendations.
Among them are the tripling of the state’s
mandatory setback distance of wells from
streams, and a doubling of penalties for
environmental violations. Highlights include
•Increase well setback distance from
streams, ponds, and other bodies of water
from 100 to 300 feet and 500 feet for
waterways designated to be of high or
• Double penalties for civil violations from
$25,000 to $50,000.
• Enhance the ability of the Pennsylvania
Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to suspend, revoke, or deny
drilling permits for failure to comply.
• Increase bonding requirements for wells
from $2,500 to $10,000 and more for
deeper wells. This would ensure proper
capping and clean up of old well sites.
But the 30-member commission fell short
of the hopes of environmentalists in some
areas. For example, the commission failed
to endorse stronger protections for state
forests or a tax on drilling in Pennsylvania—although it did recommend a fee that
could help local governments with road
repairs and other related costs.
“CBF will continue to focus on these issues,
as well as the need for a cumulative impact
study to better understand the long-term
impacts drilling has on our natural
resources,” said Matthew Ehrhart, CBF’s
Pennsylvania Executive Director and one of
four representatives from environmental
groups on the commission.
The next step is convincing the Pennsylvania General Assembly and state agencies to
adopt the commission’s best recommendations, Ehrhart said.
Because of a legal action by CBF, Pennsylva-
nia’s environmental agency is already tight-
ening up its review process for erosion and
sediment control permits for some gas
wells. In 2009, the agency started an expe-
dited permit review process that essentially
allowed the rubber-stamping of drilling
permits. CBF challenged three permits with
egregious errors. In July, the state reached a
settlement agreement with CBF, ending
expedited permitting for drilling sites near
high-quality streams and prohibiting the
development of wells in floodplains.
At the national level, CBF is also fighting for
stronger protections for streams and residents
in the Marcellus Shale region. On April 4,
CBF and several allies filed a petition with the
federal government demanding a comprehensive federal study of the cumulative environmental and human health impacts of
hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus Shale.
“Given the substantial and ever growing
expansion of natural gas drilling…we
urge…federal agencies to immediately
address their responsibility to protect
human health and the environment,” CBF
Attorney Amy McDonnell wrote.
In a similar move, the New York Attorney
General on May 31 filed a lawsuit against the
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies for failing to complete a federal
environmental study of the potential impacts
of drilling on the Delaware River Basin.
u The Pennsylvania Governor’s Marcellus Shale
Advisory Commission report can be read online
Tom Pelton, an award-winning
environmental journalist, is
Senior Writer and Investigative
Reporter for the Chesapeake