Published: Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 12:00 AM Updated: Wednesday, April 27, 2011, 6:38 A By DONALD GILLILAND, The Patriot-News
Eight of the drilling companies with representatives on the Pennsylvania governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission were cited with environmental violations last year. One of them led the state in violations. All of them contributed to Gov. Tom Corbett’s campaign. That lends some ammunition to environmentalists’ complaint that Corbett populated the commission henhouse with industry foxes favored for their largesse rather than careful business practices. Industry officials say the representatives bring valuable expertise and talent to the panel.
According to an analysis of violations from the Department of Environmental Protection conducted by Clean Water Action, an environmental group, the companies represented on the governor’s commission accounted for 42 percent of all drilling violations last year — 514 out of a total 1,227. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Myron Arnowitt, Clean Water Action’s state director. “Some of the very worst companies are on the commission.” With 174 violations, Chief Oil & Gas led the state last year; Chief’s vice president of government and regulatory affairs, Terry Bossert, sits on the commission. Attempts to contact Chief for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful. Chesapeake Energy had the third-highest number of violations at 132; Chesapeake’s vice president of government relations, Dave Spigelmyer, was appointed to the commission, but chose to step off prior to the beginning of its work. Other companies with violations serving on the commission are: East Resources (74 violations), Exxon Mobil (66), Range Resources (32), Chevron (16), EQT (15) and Consol (5). The violations range from administrative oversights to illegal discharge of industrial waste. About one in six wells had problems.
“We’re concerned that some of the folks on the commission are really part of the problem, and we don’t see how they’re going to be part of the solution,” Arnowitt said.
Companies represented on the commission also donated more than $790,000 to Corbett’s campaign, he said. Ray Walker of Range Resources is serving on the commission as the representative of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group he chairs.
“The commission’s objective is to develop a comprehensive, strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of Marcellus Shale,” said the coalition’s spokesman, Travis Windle. “Having subject matter experts — like Ray Walker and others — whose understanding of these highly technical issues is second to none only makes sense.” Range is also widely recognized as one of the most environmentally responsible of all the companies drilling in Pennsylvania. It was Range that told DEP the state’s regulations had to change or its rivers would be destroyed.
That’s not good enough for Clean Water Action. It’s one of 17 groups that plans to stage a rally outside the commission’s meeting at the Rachel Carson Building in Harrisburg at noon today. The groups are calling for the governor to disband the commission unless citizens groups are given seats at the table. “The rally is really to address the fact — from our perspective — [that] the makeup of the commission is not what it should be to address the problems Marcellus Shale drilling has brought to the state,” Arnowitt said.
Arnowitt was part of an April 13 meeting between environmental groups and both the governor’s energy executive and the DEP secretary. The groups were denied seats on the board, but the officials asked them to supply specific ideas of how to incorporate more public comment into the proceedings. That has not been done. “We’re still putting together ideas,” Arnowitt said. “We’re happy to talk more about how to include more input, but that’s a separate question.”
That disparity between public and private action is telling, said Chad Saylor, spokesman for Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, who leads the commission.The proceedings are open and transparent, he said, and public comment is still welcome.
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