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On Feb. 7 in the Senate and Feb. 8 in the House, the Pennsylvania legislature voted in favor of HB 1950, a compromise gas development bill that was hammered out behind closed doors under the heavy hand of Gov. Tom Corbett. Under the guise of providing “impact fees” to municipalities where gas operations occur, the legislature effectively supported a takeover of municipalities by the state and the gas industry by gutting established and effective local planning and zoning rights.
Through provisions contained in the bill, municipalities will no longer be able to play a central, critical role in protecting the health, safety, and welfare of residents and determining which uses of land are most beneficial.
The bill requires that all types of oil and gas operations (except for natural gas processing plants)—unlike any other commercial or industrial business—be allowed in all zoning districts, even in residential neighborhoods and near schools, parks, hospitals and sensitive natural and cultural resource protection areas. As a result, people could be forced to live only 300 feet away from a gas well, open frack waste pit, or pipeline, despite growing evidence that such development causes pollution, damages health, and lowers property values.
The bill also mandates a one-size-fits-all ordinance that supersedes all existing ordinances and prevents municipalities from adopting any zoning provisions that are stricter than the weak, mandated standards.
“The Pennsylvania legislature has let the gas industry take over, despite the terrible consequences that drilling is having in communities across the Commonwealth. This so-called impact fee bill brings no net fiscal gain to Pennsylvania residents; it robs us of the ability to protect what is most locally valuable—our health, safety and resources—and gives gas operators the right to run all over our communities. This is unjust and exposes the true allegiances of the bill’s supporters—self-interested gas developers and their backers,” said Maya van Rossum, the Delaware Riverkeeper.
“Today, many legislators and Gov. Corbett told Pennsylvania residents that protecting their health and rights matters far less to them than the gas industry’s demands,” said Nadia Steinzor, Marcellus regional organizer for Earthworks’ Oil and Gas Accountability Project. “They and other supporters of this bill turned a blind eye on the widespread damage caused by drilling and a deaf ear to calls from citizens for change, while doing the bidding of companies that want to drill anywhere, anytime.”
“If legislators were looking to pass a proposal that will allow more gas drilling near people’s homes, and the parks, playgrounds and schools where our children play and spend their days, then ‘Mission Accomplished,’” said Erika Staaf of PennEnvironment. “Sadly, this is just one more case of powerful interests dominating the political process, and the lack of leadership on both sides of the aisle to do anything about it.”
“A poorly-regulated gas industry will be able to drill in residential neighborhoods, bringing thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals, thousands of tractor trailers, round the clock noisy, polluting drilling, all as little as a football field away from homes, day care centers, and playgrounds,” said Jeff Schmidt, director of Sierra Club’s Pennsylvania Chapter. “The legislators who voted in favor of HB 1950 have abandoned any pretense that they are acting in the public interest. We will make sure the public knows who sided with the drillers and who sided with citizens when they go to the polls for this year’s elections.”
“This bill represents a huge step backwards in protection for Pennsylvania towns and the environment,” said Myron Arnowitt, Pennsylvania State director for Clean Water Action. “The state override of local zoning ordinances will greatly increase the threats to communities from all aspects of gas extraction. Never before has one industry been given full rights to do as they please, without recognizing the needs of other businesses, residents and our environment. 2012 is an election year, and we will be devoting our energy to ensuring that the voters of Pennsylvania are aware of which legislators voted to give away our control over an industry that has contaminated our air, land and water.”
“The legislators who voted for HB 1950 made a short-sighted decision that puts the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s communities at risk,” said Josh McNeil, executive director of Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania. “They voted against the interests of their constituents and should expect those constituents to return the favor in the November election.”
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By Andy Rowell
In a decision that will both dismay and worry environmental campaigners and communities facing fracking across Europe, the European Commission has concluded that existing laws are adequate to cover the controversial drilling technique.
A new report undertaken for the European Commission by the Belgian law firm Philippe & Partners, argues that there is no need for more environmental legislation concerning fracking until it reaches commercial scale.
“Neither on the European level nor on the national level have we noticed significant gaps in the current legislative framework, when it comes to regulating the current level of shale gas activities,” the study says.
However, in words that are meant to reassure people, the report continued: "However, this is no reason for complacency, since this assessment explicitly refers to the current level of experience and scale of operations as can be expected during the exploration phase."
Although the study was finished last November, it has only just been released by the commission. It also just covered four countries—Sweden, Poland, France and Germany.
But the report argues that activities relating to exploration of shale gas are already subject to EU and national laws and regulations, such as the Water Framework Directive, the Groundwater Directive and the Mining Waste Directive. The use of chemicals is covered by the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemical substances) regulation.
“It is a new technology and we do not have a specific legislation on shale gas, because it is so new,” said Marlene Holzner, European commission spokesperson on energy. “So the study only says that the existing regulations are applicable for shale gas, that the tool is there and has only to be applied.”
Ironically this report is at odds with another report submitted last summer to the commission, which was written for the European Parliament’s Committee on Environment, Public Health and Food Safety.
That report called for “consideration to be given to developing a new directive at European level regulating all issues in this area comprehensively." The report, entitled Impacts of shale gas and shale oil extraction on the environment and human health also recommended that for fracking, “all chemicals to be used should be disclosed publicly, the number of allowed chemicals should be restricted and its use should be monitored.”
But of course, by the time fracking gets to a commercial scale it could well be too late to monitor all the chemicals being used and to rush in EU-wide legislation, especially given the time it takes to draft legislation and then get it past the EU’s various respective bodies.
Meanwhile, there would be huge financial and other pressure from the oil industry to carry on drilling without having to wait for further regulations. It is a scenario that many communities in America are finding to their cost.
The new report will be used by the oil industry as a green light to carry on fracking. Poland, where the fracking revolution is occurring full steam ahead, is planning to begin commercial shale gas production in two years’ time. So if laws are to be implemented at the EU level to cover commercial drilling, that needs to happen now.
Not every country in the EU is fracking mad, though.
A couple of weeks ago, thousands of Bulgarians protested against fracking over fears it could poison underground water, trigger earthquakes and pose serious public health hazards. Protestors rallied in more than six Bulgarian cities calling for a fracking moratorium.
“I am opposed because we do not know what chemicals they will put in the ground. Once they poison the water, what shall we drink?” said Olga Petrova, 24, a student who attended a protest in Sofia.
Days later, Bulgaria’s National Assembly voted to impose an indefinite fracking ban in the country. France also banned fracking last July, while in Britain fracking has caused minor earthquakes.
Who's going to draft a law to stop that happening again?
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