Corbett defends advisors on shale

| Thursday, April 28, 2011

HARRISBURG -- Gov. Tom Corbett defended his Marcellus shale advisory panel on Wednesday and said that any environmental violations by companies with representatives on the commission were "mistakes" to be learned from.

Eight companies with members on Gov. Tom Corbett's advisory committee on gas drilling had 514 environmental violations last year, an environmental group charged. One company, Chesapeake Energy, has since "voluntarily withdrawn" from the Marcellus Shale Commission, said Chad Saylor, a spokesman for Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, the committee chairman.

Clean Water Action prepared an analysis of violations, which claimed that 42 percent of all statewide violations in 2010 were committed by companies with representatives on the commission, a panel that heard wide-ranging and emotional testimony from the public yesterday.

The Clean Water Action analysis did not indicate the nature of the violations or how many were serious.

In Pittsburgh, Corbett defended his inclusion of industry representatives on the 30-member panel.

"You need the industry there," he said. "And do they have violations• Yeah, maybe, probably: Violations occur. They're mistakes.

"People make mistakes. We learn from our mistakes. And that's why I'm looking for the commission to come up with ideas and regulations that we need," Corbett told reporters. "They received violations, they pay the violations. But we have to go forward. If we had mistakes and disqualify everybody, we wouldn't get a true sense of the industry. Let's be realistic about it."

Tom Hoffman, a retired Consol Energy executive, said the number of violations rarely provides much insight into what is happening in the field unless additional detail that accompanies each violation report is examined.

"Some violations are administrative in nature, such as a failure to install a DEP permit number on a well. But even violations that are characterized as environmental, health or safety sometimes may represent an inspector's judgment that a design or plan may be inadequate rather than an actual incident in which environmental damage occurs," Hoffman said.

The commission includes at least six members of Corbett's cabinet, including Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Michael Krancer. At the meeting in Harrisburg, Krancer told one witness who claimed to have seen a photo of environmental damage from a gas well, "I want your pictures. If you give me the picture, we will go after the violator. It is not a cost of doing business."

Almost 50 witnesses testified before the commission.

"When did economic growth become more important than people's lives?" said Jen Hara of Enola.

A Washington County man challenged the commission to drink the water in areas near drilling.

"Would you be willing to have your children and your grandchildren drink the water of Hopewell Township or Avella for the next five years• I wouldn't," said Mike Menyk of Canonsburg.

Meanwhile, Richard Allan, the acting Secretary of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said the agency isn't discussing leasing more state forest land for drilling, and there's still a moratorium on it.

But he told the commission if more land is leased, his agency would look to reuse all established well pads for horizontal drilling to avoid establishing new drilling sites.

Dozens of protesters outside the meeting complained that members aren't interested in protecting public health and safety.

One protester, Dana Dolney of Polish Hill, later told the panel, "The DEP is supposed to be our protector, not an industry facilitator."

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