Marcellus Update: A Rowdy Public Hearing and More

In a raucous meeting over shale drilling, US Department of Energy reps came to Washington County, PA to hear from citizens. The Department of Energy is reviewing hydraulic fracturing safety. The Allegheny Front's Kate Malongowski has more on this and other shale news. The Allegheny Front is now a news partner with The Post-Gazette's Pipeline project on Marcellus shale.

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In a raucous meeting over shale drilling, US Department of Energy reps came to Washington County, PA to hear from citizens. The Department of Energy is reviewing hydraulic fracturing safety. The Allegheny Front's Kate Malongowski has more on this and other shale news. The Allegheny Front is now a news partner with The Post-Gazette's Pipeline project on Marcellus shale.

MALONGOWSKI: Hundreds of people jammed an auditorium at Washington and Jefferson College to address the The Secretary of Energy's Natural Gas Subcommittee. The subcommittee's panel has been criticized for having conflicts of interest within the gas industry.

Some people who oppose drilling carried signs reading "The DOE is full of gas." One speaker referred to members of the subcommittee as "patriotic heroes."

Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields was among dozens of speakers, Shields referred to the drilling moratorium that passed in Pittsburgh last fall, and said the natural gas subcommittee should be doing more thorough research about Marcellus Shale drilling, too.

SHIELDS: We assembled panels of lawyers. We assembled panels of scientists, and took the evidence for what it was... As an elected official, why on the God's green earth would I want to be against jobs and money and a better economy? Because the health and welfare of the people I serve come first.

MALONGOWSKI: Gas and energy companies representatives also spoke.

Bob Garland, a Senior Technical Advisor with Universal Well Services said fractured wells have been regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, the US Department of Energy, among others.

GARLAND: In the past 62 years, we've been using the process of hydraulic fracturing, and as I have personally stated beforeÖ. There has not been any, not one documented case of groundwater contamination. (jeers from audience)

MALONGOWSKI: According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, one lobbying firm, Energy in Depth, provided some pro-drilling landowners free transportation, lodging, and food to speak at the public meeting.

Also, a Pennsylvania senate bill was just introduced that calls for an operating fee on Marcellus wells. An amendment to the bill imposes an annual fee for the first ten years, beginning at $40,000 and dropping to $10,000 by the fourth year of operation. Bill sponsors estimate this kind of tax would bring in about 70 million dollars this year and nearly 760 million dollars over the next five years. Pennsylvania is currently the largest gas-producing state in the country that doesn't tax drilling.

And in a recent Quinnipiac University Poll, Pennsylvania voters say 63 to 30 percent that the economic benefits of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale outweigh the environmental impacts. Support is strong among men, women, among all political parties and in all regions in the state.

For the Allegheny Front, I'm Kate Malongowski.