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Pennsylvania is 'reaping bounty' in Marcellus shale

| Thursday, Sept. 20, 2012, 1:20 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA — The state's gas industry faces tough new environmental rules, but Gov. Tom Corbett said at a Marcellus shale gas industry conference on Thursday that “Pennsylvania is getting it right” as the industry takes off and manufacturing begins to recover.

He lambasted anti-drilling activists as the “unreasoning opposition” who accept that the nation can land a space vehicle on Mars but don't believe energy companies can safely harvest gas a mile under the Earth's surface.

“After all the predictions of disaster and the fearful warnings from people with no understanding of the industry, Pennsylvania is reaping a bounty,” said the Republican governor from Shaler. “Marcellus has reached into some very old corners of our economy and our state and brought them back to life.”

His address took place during the second Shale Gas Insight, a conference organized by the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition.

Corbett and industry leaders touted the economic impact of the energy industry, which Community and Economic Development Secretary C. Alan Walker said could employ 500,000 Pennsylvanians — a tenth of the state's workforce — by 2020.

“We need vision, one that ties this state's future to an economy unshackled by needless regulation, but which guards against the desolation of cut-and-run practices,” Corbett said. “Pennsylvania is getting it right.”

Drillers in the state are adjusting to a major overhaul of state drilling regulations and recently paid a first state impact fee of more than $200 million.

The industry faces big safety changes with evolving rules for both spill containment and air pollution, say industry consultants.

State lawmakers passed unprecedented safety measures this year to ensure fluid spills don't escape their well pads, said Beth Powell, a managing director with the Blair County company New Pig.

Drillers face about twice as many layers of air pollution regulations compared with 20 years ago, with more rule updates coming next month, said Patrick Flynn of Groundwater & Environmental Services Inc.

“Pennsylvania law is much, much stricter than what the federal government requires at this point,” Powell said after a panel discussion about spill prevention and cleanup. “Pennsylvania is much further ahead than any other state with secondary (spill) containment.”

Before February, the state required emergency planning but set no standards for how to contain spills at shale drilling sites. State lawmakers that month passed reforms for deep shale drilling, requiring master plans that outline how a site would contain any spills, Powell said. A new spill policy and another set of rule revisions based on February's new laws likely will set further details on how to report and contain spills.

A lot depends on an ongoing technical review that the Department of Environmental Protection just delayed by two months, said John Walliser, chairman of the department's Citizens Advisory Council.

“We're optimistic that they're headed in the right direction,” he said by phone from Pittsburgh. “We want them to get it right, and if it takes them a little more time to get it right, we support that.”

The state and the federal governments also are ramping up their work on air pollution, consultants said. The state is updating its permit requirements for compressor stations, and the federal government is making broad changes in its rules and its enforcement practices.

“These rules are changing,” said Andrew C. Woerner from the Chester County offices of Environmental Resources Management. “There's a lot of interpretation that needs to go into place and a lot of challenges to make sure your program is fit for purpose.”

Timothy Puko is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or tpuko@tribweb.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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