PITTSBURGH, April 28, 2011 – – Public safety, public health, environmental, and natural gas industry experts today had the opportunity to discuss Marcellus Shale drilling and the opportunities and challenges it presents with the state Senate Democratic Policy Committee at a town hall meeting in Pittsburgh.  There was also a very lively and vocal crowd which turned out for the public comment period.

“The Marcellus Shale industry has the potential to redefine Pennsylvania’s economy for many years to come,” committee chair Lisa Boscola said.  “As we go about developing new policies and regulations, it is our duty as legislators and as custodians of public safety to protect Pennsylvania’s environment – as well as the communities impacted by the proliferation of energy exploration and drilling.”

The town hall meeting focused on the opportunities that drilling in the Marcellus Shale offers, as well as the environmental, public health, economic and social challenges it presents.

“While we have consistently heard about the economic benefits of Marcellus Shale, there is still a real need to educate communities about the clear risks to public health and safety – especially those communities that will be greatly affected by drilling in their neighborhoods,” Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Pittsburgh) said. “As there are a wide range of perspectives on this issue, this town hall meeting is a valuable opportunity to discuss these diverse perspectives.  I am pleased to have held it here in my district.”

The Policy Committee heard from experts from public safety, public health, environmental, and the natural gas industry, as well as comments from the public. Along with Boscola and Ferlo, other Democratic senators present at the hearing were Democratic Leader Jay Costa (D-Allegheny), Senator Wayne D. Fontana (D-Pittsburgh), Senator Jim Brewster (D-McKeesport), Senator Tim Solobay (D-Washington), and Senator Richard Kasunic (D-Fayette/Somerset/Washington/Westmoreland).

Several panelists participated including Conrad Daniel Volz, DrPH, MPH who noted that Marcellus Shale drilling throughout this country is highly unregulated. “This is a public health issue. We are spending billions of dollars as a country to protect our infrastructure from terrorists. Then we are putting these wells that catch fire, blow up, and cause great danger within a stone’s throw of people’s homes. We have been extremely lucky that the serious problems we have had have been in areas that are lightly inhabited.”

Jeanne Clark of PennFuture received applause from the audience when she noted that “we turned a corner today with Sen. Scarnati’s impact fee announcment.” According to Clark, it is not enough. “We have gone from not if, but when. We are in the advance and need to move it forward.”

Erika Staaf, PennEnvironment warned, “We must direct money to statewide programs and not just communities. We all live downstream. The residents of the commonwealth from here to Philadelphia to Erie and everywhere in between are affected.”

Dave Spigelmyer who represented Chesapeake Energy at today’s hearing said, “We’re all looking to be good community citizens where we work.” When asked by Senator Boscola about remarks from elected officials that drillers will leave Pennsylvania if they are taxed, Spigelmyer responded, “I don’t think any of us said we would leave the Commonwealth. Certainly not.” “This is not yesterday’s coal industry.  This needs to be done in an environmentally-friendly fashion,” he added.

Edward A. Mann, Pennsylvania State Fire Commissioner explained “We have to get this right the first time. The industry is here and here for years to come. At the end of the day, as fire commissioner, my responsibility is to make sure first responders make it back to their families.”

Chief Alvin Henderson, Jr. of Allegheny County’s Department of Emergency Services expressed concern over workers at drilling sites not having sufficient information to alert public safety agencies when an emergency arises. “Sometimes getting to that well site can be a challenge. There is vital time it takes sometimes to pinpoint their location,” he explained.

According to Senator Boscola, Governor Tom Corbett’s Department of Environmental Protection and Department of Community and Economic Development Secretaries were invited to testify. However, both turned down the opportunity, while at the same time making appearances at House Republican hearings on the subject last week.

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