January 6, 2014
Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in New York state in December, just weeks before a new governor will take office a few hundred miles south in Pennsylvania.
For the Keystone state, the question remains: will New York’s decision to ban fracking impact Pennsylvania? Will there be any repercussions in how the state regulates gas drilling?
Not so much, says former Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection secretary Dave Hess.
“I really don’t see any carryover,” says Hess, a lobbyist for several environmental groups with Harrisburg-based Crisci Associates. “We’ve had different dynamics around drilling in Pennsylvania for the last ten or twelve years. We’re twelve years down the road in this--that’s twelve years of jobs created by the industry, and also twelve years of setting standards and trying to get the standards right. Pennsylvania’s in a much different place than where New York is.”
The big changes in Pennsylvania’s treatment of the Marcellus Shale industry revolve more around a new governor, Democrat Tom Wolf. Beginning Jan. 20, Wolf replaces Republican Tom Corbett.
Though the two differ on many aspects of natural gas drilling policy, they are in agreement over one question: neither wants to ban fracking in Pennsylvania.
Wolf called Cuomo’s decision “unfortunate” in comments to the media in December.
One direct impact of Cuomo’s decision will be that no drilling in New York may mean more drilling in Pennsylvania. Industry groups in Pennsylvania say they’re glad New York has said ‘no thank you’ to fracking—it means more work on their side of the state line. “New York’s loss is Pennsylvania’s gain,” said Stephanie Catarino Wissman, executive director of the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania,
Cindy Dunn, president of PennFuture and a participant in Wolf’s transition team for conservation and natural resources, said the ban may mean “increased pressure of pipelines and transmission lines” in Pennsylvania as East Coast markets look to get more of their gas from the Marcellus shale.
Wissman agreed pipelines will be needed to get Marcellus shale gas to markets, like New York City.
“There is no doubt more infrastructure is needed to get gas to markets—we have a natural gas glut in Pennsylvania because we do not have enough infrastructure to support it to get it to market,” Wissman said.
In making the decision to ban fracking, Cuomo relied on the advice of his Health Secretary, Howard Zucker, whose department compiled a 176-page public health review on shale gas development.
Zucker said there were “significant uncertainties” surrounding the health impacts of fracking. His report drew on health studies from around the country, including several from Pennsylvania that looked at impacts on air and water quality, as well as health impacts on residents that lived near drilling.
Hess thinks the report itself may push the debate in Pennsylvania on fracking and health.
“The one carryover from New York could be a renewed emphasis to try to determine in Pennsylvania whether there have been or are health impacts from fracking and drilling operations and natural gas infrastructure,” Hess said.
Wolf has signaled an interest in creating a shale health registry, a move that Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended creating in 2011. The state legislature never funded the registry, which would help public health researchers determine what impact, if any, fracking and related gas drilling activities have on public health.
Legislators, including Sen. President Joe Scarnati, a Republican, said they weren't comfortable with creating a registry. But Scarnati says he will reintroduce a bill that would create a shale health advisory panel. The panel would be comprised of experts from health, government, and industry who would review research on drilling and health and present its findings to elected officials and regulators.
Wolf has said he's in favor of enacting a severance tax on natural gas to help fund educational initiatives; he is also on the record as being in favor of maintaining a ban on fracking in the Delaware River basin and a moratorium on new drilling in state parks and forests.