DEP Secretary blasts back after New York State senators attack Pa. drilling
When the New York State senate passed a nine-month moratorium on a crucial natural gas drilling technique late Tuesday, Pennsylvania, the commonwealth's environmental regulatory agency and the small Susquehanna County township of Dimock were held up by legislators there as models for how not to drill for gas in the Marcellus Shale.
The senators' criticism raised the ire of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection's Secretary John Hanger, who defended the commonwealth's environmental regulations on Thursday and criticized New York for riding the moral "high horse while consuming Pennsylvania gas."
"If they are so ashamed of what's gone on here perhaps they should stop buying Pennsylvania gas," he said.
New York State Senator Antoine Thompson, D-Buffalo, the legislation's sponsor, twice visited Dimock and Bradford County in the last eight months to learn from citizens and gas companies about the positive and negative effects of drilling - experiences he cited when he introduced the bill for a vote.
"I think because the state of Pennsylvania was so thirsty to get this development opportunity they did not have enough infrastructure in place, making sure they were inspecting the wells properly, making sure that landowners were protected," he said Tuesday night.
Although an opponent of the bill, State Senator Tom Libous, R-Binghamton, was even more harshly critical of Pennsylvania in his comments.
"Shame on the state of Pennsylvania," he said. "Shame on their Department of Environmental Protection ... because they screwed up badly. They didn't keep an eye on those who were drilling. They didn't keep an eye on environmental factors on behalf of the citizens of that state."
Mr. Hanger agreed that the experience in Dimock was "unacceptable" - the department found that faulty Cabot Oil and Gas Corp. natural gas wells caused methane to contaminate residents' drinking water there. But he described two years of work that the department has dedicated to strengthening Pennsylvania's drilling standards and enforcement, including doubling the size of its gas enforcement staff while "New York has added nobody."
"If New York demands to have no impacts from drilling, then they better have a moratorium that extends not just through May 2011, but forever," he said. "You cannot have drilling, even done well, and get zero impact."
When companies have "screwed up, like Cabot screwed up in Dimock," he said, "we've come down on them very very hard."
Marcellus Shale drilling has been on hold in New York since 2008 when the state's environmental regulatory agency began reviewing the environmental impact of the deep well drilling and updating its permitting requirements. That review is expected to be completed later this year.
When asked if he wished he had the opportunity to watch a neighboring state learn through trial and error - as the New York State senate's vote positions the Empire State to continue to do - Mr. Hanger said, "There are pluses and minuses to each state's approach."
Pennsylvania and its citizens have benefited in jobs and income from the surge to lease and exploit the gas-rich Marcellus Shale, he said, but it has also benefited from stronger protections for the state's streams and stronger regulation of all drilling inspired by the shale development.
In July, the state adopted new standards protecting rivers from highly salty discharges of industrial wastewater and adding new buffers to the highest quality streams.
"We've also been very honest with folks," he said. "Drilling is an industrial activity. What we've all been doing is try to maximize the economic benefits and minimize the costs."
The secretary also used the opportunity to push the Pennsylvania legislature to adopt a tax on gas extracted from the commonwealth's shale, saying that the gas companies will pass the costs of such a tax onto consumers in other states.
"Right now we're getting taken to the cleaners by New Yorkers who are getting tax-free Pennsylvania gas and then complaining about it," he said.
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