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22 organizations jointly sign letter to the Governor's Commission with recommendations

Joint release: Clean Water Action Pennsylvania * Earthworks

(Harrisburg) — The Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water released today a letter to Gov. Corbett's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, sent earlier this week, calling for a moratorium on further drilling pending study of the cumulative impact of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania. The letter also listed recommendations to the Commission regarding what protections need to be implemented immediately to address the numerous problems with drilling identified thus far. 22 organizations from across the state signed the letter, which is available at: http://www.pacleanwatercampaign.org/.

The Governor's Marcellus Commission is expected to vote today on a closely guarded list of recommendations that will go in a final report to Gov. Corbett set to be delivered on July 22. The environmental and community organizations will be providing a full response to the final report on July 25.

“We need a real study that recommends real change in the gas development status quo and we aren't going to get that from Governor Corbett's handpicked gang. Pennsylvania officials want to be one of the top producers in shale gas development nationally. How badly political top brass want to prevail must be tempered by the need to protect water, public health, and the environment but this Commission's make-up and narrow focus doesn't lend support to public protection over business interests,” said Tracy Carluccio, Deputy Director, Delaware Riverkeeper Network.

“We've been saying since its establishment that the Commission needs to pay far more attention to the real impacts of drilling on communities and the Commonwealth's air and water quality than on accommodating drillers,” said Nadia Steinzor of Earthworks Oil & Gas Accountability Project. “With this letter, we want to make sure that truly protective regulations and enforcement measures become part of the record and are available for consideration.”

“With the Commission clearly stacked in favor of gas drilling industry and the lack of public transparency surrounding their final report, there's good reason for the public believe the whole process was nothing more than a stalling tactic,” said Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment. “To prove us wrong, the Commission needs to recommend real protections for our environment and public health that our organizations have provided to them; not half-hearted proposals that won't actually address the environmental threats of drilling.”

The groups emphasized that further Marcellus Shale development should not proceed without a full assessment of the cumulative impacts of drilling tens of thousands of wells expected in Pennsylvania, proper protections and regulations in place, and the means to enforce them. The coalition specifically cited the need for a severance tax, increased resources for regulators, and no more leasing of public land.

They also asked for measures to be taken to protect landowner rights and municipal control; ensure detailed, public disclosure of chemicals used during fracking; establish systems to track and publicly report waste and wastewater discharge; and require drillers to control and report air emissions, minimize land impacts, limit water use, and improve well construction.

Citing efforts in the last legislative session to revise the State Oil & Gas Act, the groups recommended setbacks for wells to at least 3,000 feet (with 5,000 feet providing a margin of safety) from any water resources and buildings and the “presumed zone of contamination” for drillers to 5,000 feet without time limitation. They also would like to see state law increase bonding amounts for well reclamation, require companies to perform pre-drilling surveys of drinking water sources and provide landowners with the results, and establish (using surcharges on drilling permits) of an Emergency Drinking Water Support Fund to test well water.

The groups noted that the Act should be further updated to prohibit fracking pits that pollute air and water and require “closed loop” waste storage and disposal systems. Drillers who break the law and put public health and the environment at risk should be subject to mandatory inspections and penalties, and “repeat offenders” should be prohibited from further drilling in Pennsylvania.

“We continue to wait for the state legislature to take real action to address the problems from gas drilling,” stated Myron Arnowitt, PA State Director for Clean Water Action. “The real work will happen once this Commission closes up shop. Pennsylvanians are tired of hearing one excuse after another about why they won't act. Meanwhile, we have blowouts, fires, contaminated water, and sick residents. People have lost confidence that our state government is listening. They have a lot of work to do to regain that trust.”

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