For those opposed to the mining of the Marcellus Shale bloom, the outlook is grim.
That was the consensus reached by the Kidder Township Environmental Advisory Committee at its meeting this week. Members of the committee began a discussion about how to best prepare the Township for the expansion of drilling operations.
The goal of the EAC is to develop a set of regulations and ordinances which will protect the township. Although no formal action was taken at the meeting, the discussion painted a vivid portrait of the complicated issue.
Recent developments have created the conditions for a drilling bonanza. Laws passed by the state government have given drilling companies the power to evict unwilling landowners in certain situations and exempted those companies from having to comply with Pennsylvania EPA clean-water drinking acts. Another law, SB 1042, will automatically extend approval permits for drilling operations through 2013.
The Delaware River Basin Commission recently lifted a moratorium that had been placed on all wells impacting the water table. HB 2235, a state law which placed a five-year moratorium on drilling in state parks has been reduced to three years. Further, the DCNR recently admitted they do not own 70 percent of the mineral rights under state land.
In the view of the EAC, the state government is basically giving drilling companies leave to run wild. Members of the board feel that the need to generate short-term immediate profits must not totally overshadow the long-term consequences of monumental environmental damage.
"I'm not against drilling, I just want it done with the proper regulations," said EAC member Bob Dobosh.
Damage to the state's water supply is one of the most controversial aspects of shale drilling operations. As part of the Delaware River Basin, Kidder Township could appeal to the DRB commision and the DEP for the authority to regulate any possible drilling operations. However, because drillers are exempted from portions of clean water laws, it is unclear who would have ultimate jurisdiction.
"If the law is compromised, what do we stand on? But we have to do something. We can't just sit back and take it," said EAC member Frank Gilotti.
For any township to have an amount of control over how drilling operations are conducted within its boarders, it is necessary to develop a strict set of regulations and ordinances and get them on the books as soon as possible. In this way, any future permit approvals will be subject to those rules. The EAC members discussed several possible regulations, including limiting the hours of operation at a well site to nine hours a day. Limiting the amount of water drawn for commercial use to a certain number of gallons a day is another possibility.
In terms of environmental protections, "Kidder Zoning is very weak right now," said Dobosh. The ordinances currently have no requirements for an environmental impact study prior to operations. Impact studies are a base proof of an area's previous condition and can be an invaluable legal tool in the event of litigation. Without them there is no way to objectively measure the impact of a drilling operation on the environment.
Getting a requirement for impact studies on the books in Kidder Township is the top priority of the EAC.
"We have to do something to protect people," said EAC member Hank George, "I'm old enough to remember when the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers smelled terrible."