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Join Date: Feb 2006
Location: The village of Saint Thomas, Franklin County, PA 4B, but most likely hunting in either 4A or 2C
And another one.
IT'S BECOMING increasingly clear how much of a toll that natural gas extraction from the state's Marcellus Shale formation is taking on the environment and potentially on human health.
It's also increasingly clear why it's taking so long for state lawmakers to return the favor, and impose a tax on drillers.
A new report from the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association found that Marcellus Shale drillers in the state have piled up 1,435 violations in the last 2 1/2 years . The great majority - 66 percent - have the potential for direct impact on the environment. (That's not surprising, given that the process of drilling for gas involves fracturing, or "fracking", where fluids are injected at high pressure into rock to blast it open and increase the flow of gas.)
One of the highest number of violations was in the discharge of industrial waste. The report pointed out that the chemicals used in fracking can harm skin, eyes, the respiratory and gastrointestinal systems, and many can affect the brain and nervous systems.
These dangers require regulation and oversight, and demand that the industry help cover the costs of such oversight, as well as remediation. But for lawmakers, rushing to welcome the industry's foray into the state has been more important than making sure the right controls are in place, or that there is enough money to pay for those controls. Another recent report clarifies why.
That report, "Deep Drilling., Deep Pockets" released by Common Cause, found that since 2007, drillers spent over $4 million lobbying state legislators and the Rendell administration. It has donated nearly $3 million to candidates in Pennsylvania since 2001.
Last year, a tax on extraction was abandoned; this year, a tax will be imposed, the amount to be determined by Oct. 1.
Cynics might conclude that the long deadline will allow lawmakers to shake down as many drillers as possible for campaign contributions - and the level of those contributions will have some relation to the ultimate tax rate.
That's bad enough, but it gets worse: We won't know the amounts of many of those contributions. According to an "It's Our Money" report (Page 15), because laws governing campaign disclosure are tied to the election calendar, not the legislative calendar, there will be a 18-day window where drillers will be able to pour money into campaign coffers of state lawmakers, but disclosure of those contributions won't be required until after the vote on the tax.
Voluntary disclosures are not prohibited, and Common Cause has agreed to post all such voluntary reports of campaign contributions on its site (see accompanying story for details.) We urge lawmakers to comply. This would be a first step in restoring some trust in state government; unlike natural gas, that trust is one of the scarcer resources in Pennsylvania.
The Security and Exchange Commission imposes a "quiet period" following an initial public offering that prohibits the issuer from public comments on the offering. We need a quiet period in the law-making process that prohibits contributions from industries or companies while legislation is being crafted that impacts those industries.
The drilling for natural gas can provide a real boon to the state's economy, but it's not without serious and long-term risks. Proceeds from an extraction tax can help balance those risks.
Some lawmakers fear that a tax may slow the growth of gas drilling. But that probably wouldn't be such a bad thing for the environment, or the people who live here.
Philadelphia Daily News