Share This Page

Pa. court weighs Marcellus shale gas drilling rules

| Thursday, May 15, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA — A Pennsylvania appeals court appeared skeptical of gas drilling rules that would limit what “trade secrets” the industry must share after a spill.

The Commonwealth Court heard arguments on Wednesday on whether doctors treating an ill patient should have to keep information disclosed to them confidential.

Pennsylvania is trying to update 20-year-old laws to oversee the drilling boom in the Marcellus shale. But the state's high court last year threw out much of the industry-friendly regulations passed in 2012, which would have limited local oversight of drilling operations.

In Commonwealth Court arguments, President Judge Dan Pellegrini asked whether drilling companies alone should know what chemicals are “in the secret sauce” used in the hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, process. Millions of gallons of fluids are forced into the earth in fracking to break through the shale. Under the existing law, companies must disclose the chemicals involved, but can make exceptions for what they deem trade secrets.

“That kind of takes your breath away,” Pellegrini said.

On another point, the court was asked to order that contamination notices cover private water sources along with public water supplies. About 3 million people in Pennsylvania get their water from private sources, lawyer John Smith argued on behalf of several communities fighting provisions of the 2012 law, known as Act 13.

Industry lawyer David Overstreet challenged the public criticism of his clients, who pay more than $200 million a year in impact fees to affected communities, state agencies and others in Pennsylvania.

“People are under the impression that we're out to rape and pillage,” said Overstreet, who represents the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Association and other trade groups. “This is an industry that's benefiting tens of thousands of people.”

The drilling industry flocked to Pennsylvania in 2008 to tap into the Marcellus shale, the nation's largest-known natural gas formation.

The 2012 law would have restricted local municipalities' ability to control where companies place rigs, waste pits, pipelines and processing stations.

Gov. Tom Corbett and Republican lawmakers backed the industry, but critics and some municipalities said zoning restrictions were needed to protect the environment and the public's health and safety.

The court did not immediately indicate when it would rule.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.