February 10, 2012
Natural Gas Drilling Legislation Not Perfect, But Package Represents Necessary Progress
For several years now, the natural gas drilling taking place in the Marcellus Shale regions of Pennsylvania has been the leading concern of many people in our area, in public forums and in the e-mails sent to me. The questions you have asked and the views you have shared have been very helpful as this complex issue has been debated and legislation shaped.
Because our area is not directly affected by drilling activity, the views of those living in and representing the communities where drilling is taking place had to be taken into account in this crucial decisionmaking.
It seemed time to impose a fee, to start collecting and distributing revenue, and to put in place stronger regulations, enforcement, and disclosure requirements. Therefore, I voted "yes" to the package hammered out by the Corbett Administration and legislators. My reasoning is contained in the statement released right after the Senate vote.
Of the many areas of dispute, the matter of state standards versus local control proved the most controversial. Obviously, gas drilling has substantial impact on a community, so it is unfair to preempt local authority. On the other hand, a patchwork of requirements would limit drilling and curtail the economic benefits landowners, workers, small businesses, and hard-pressed communities are hoping for. Several attempts to find a balance were heavily criticized by local officials and concerned citizens. Before the vote was taken on the negotiated bill, the state association of township supervisors provided a letter indicating the final version preserved the necessary discretion for local officials.
It is clear that more than a few people wanted the debate to continue, in order to realize more revenue, to apply greater restrictions, or to fund general budget programs such as education. I do not diminish those goals. But given the positions staked out by Governor Corbett and a majority of legislators, what has been passed represents what could gain agreement under current circumstances.
This is a major piece of legislation, ground-breaking in important respects. It is by no means the end of the debate. As problems arise or unintended consequences become apparent, corrective steps will surely be debated. There are some major concerns, such as the possibility of leasing additional state forestland, which are still unresolved.
Much of the commentary was centered on criticisms leveled by opponents. This obscures that there are many necessary and useful provisions in the package. The summary outlining key provisions can be found here.
Your perspective is greatly appreciated. I am more than happy to respond to additional questions or concerns you may have.