Six Reasonable Reasons PA Should Enact a 2-Year Moratorium on New Permits for Shale Gas Drilling Upon Taking Office in 2015
(Excerpted and revised from my January 20, 2014 post; more details available in that. Upon further reflection, this revision is re-titled and re-orders the priority of good reasons for a 2-year moratorium. It also revises the suggestion that a Democratic governor could do this upon taking office. The fact is that the law allows giving out permits like candy so long as the application is in order, and only the legislature can change that. Senator Ferlo has proposed legislation for a moratorium. Perhaps these six reasons can assist him in talking to his colleagues about enacting a moratorium: http://www.senatorferlo.com/press-release-senator-ferlo-announces-fracking-moratorium-legislation )
Reason #1: There are at least two years of work to be done in overseeing, regulating and cleaning up the current system of 7,500 unconventional wells that are already in some stage of production. In many cases these are performing badly with severe negative impacts on the environment. DEP is overwhelmed and Governor Corbett and the state legislature have given the gas industry too free a hand. Additionally, it could take two years to deal with a backlog of almost 8,000 permits for wells not yet drilled. It is impossible to deal with problems of the old while so much new is coming into the system. New permits should be suspended for two years at the least.
Reason #2: Peoples’ good faith and trust in government can be gained back, at least in part, by such a moratorium. The state let the gas industry in too soon and too fast. The new governor must show the courage to enact a reasonable pause in the drilling while the state does the work that should have been done before drilling ever got permitted. To be intellectually honest, that 2-year moratorium should be open to the possibility that this kind of shale gas extraction cannot be made safe enough to continue.
Reason #3: There is a fundamental issue of fairness in how some parts of the state are now protected from unconventional drilling for shale gas while others are exempted. There are good reasons for a study of environmental impacts in the South Newark Basin area or the Delaware River Basin, and those reasons should apply to the rest of the state, otherwise much of the state is relegated to being a huge experimental zone. That is not fair.
Reason #4: A comprehensive public health study must be completed in areas of the state where drilling is most intense. Geisinger Health System along with many partners has begun work on that. It will take 3-5 years to complete Phase 1 of the study. The new governor should support that study with public financing and any useful state data. As the study rolls out, the new governor should initiate a public hearing process so that Pennsylvanians are educated about the health impacts of shale gas development.
Reason #5: The EPA study of hydraulic fracturing and its potential to cause irreparable harm to groundwater aquifers will be coming out in 2014 or 2015. Why not wait until that study appears and is thoroughly vetted through peer review and a public hearing and comment process?
Reason #6: Demand for Marcellus Shale gas is down and likely will stay down for 2015-2016 unless there is major new activity in exporting, a development that the new Democratic governor should resist as much as possible under current federal law. This market condition allows room to suspend new permits until more is known about the current-day and long-term impacts of drilling on the environment and public health.