LAPORTE - Pennsylvania might be sitting on the largest gas reserves in the world, a Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection official said in Laporte on Friday.

The Marcellus Shale is the second largest natural gas reserve in the world, said Scott Perry, the director of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Bureau of Oil and Gas Management. And underneath the Marcellus Shale lies another source of natural gas, the Utica Shale, "which is potentially as productive at the Marcellus Shale, maybe even more so," Perry said.

Together with other existing underground reserves of natural gas in the Commonwealth, "Pennsylvania might be sitting on the largest gas reserves in the world," Perry said at a meeting of Sullivan County Energy Task Force in Laporte.

Perry also said that the Department of Environmental Protection inspects Marcellus Shale wells "multiple times," which contradicts an assertion made several weeks ago by Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith that many Marcellus Shale gas wells are not being inspected by the DEP.

Making sure that gas wells are properly constructed and that gas well sites are properly developed "is a priority for us," Perry said in an interview after the meeting.

At the meeting, Perry said that the DEP increased the Marcellus Shale permit fees to pay for more gas well inspectors. "If they think we need more people resources, we can increase the fee" again, he said.

Perry also said that the Department of Environmental Protection does not require that Marcellus Shale gas well pads be lined to protect the ground from spills or that berms be constructed at gas well sites to contain large spills.

However, he said that "a substantial number" of companies do voluntarily install a liner on their well pad sites. And, he said, Chesapeake Energy installs both a liner and berms at its newer well sites.

However, companies that are responsible for spills can be fined, and they are also responsible for remediating the site after a spill, he said.

The issue of lining wells and installing berms was raised by Dean Marsh of the Benton area, who said that a gas drilling company, Williams LLC, is getting ready to frack a well near where he lives. While the site is lined, there is no berm, so a substantial spill would flow off the site and could impact a trout stream in the area if there were a heavy rain, Marsh said in an interview.

Perry also said at the meeting that hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," of gas wells has not resulted in contamination of ground water. "I have yet to see an instance where hydraulic fracturing has split open rock and impacted fresh ground water zones," Perry said.

Friday's meeting was open to the public.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (57)) 265-1633; or e-mail: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com.