Pennsylvania's county conservation districts would reclaim authority over erosion and sediment control in the Marcellus Shale under legislation that Republican state Rep. Karen Boback said she will introduce in September.

"When it comes to protecting our water, air and other natural resources, I say the more oversight, the better," she said. "Conservation districts have historically been active in implementing programs for pollution and sediment control, and I believe they have a valuable role to play as the natural gas industry in Pennsylvania continues to develop."

County conservation districts have historically acted as the primary local government unit responsible for the conservation of natural resources and implementing programs to address soil erosion, storm water management and flood control. However, last year the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) assumed some of these responsibilities, effectively eliminating the role of conservation districts, said Boback, who represents Columbia, Luzerne and Wyoming counties.

"This legislation is about reinserting local oversight into the drilling process. Decisions about our local environment should not only be in the hands of officials in Harrisburg [PA, the state capital]," she said.

Boback also said she is an opponent of forced pooling of mineral rights "and other policies that would usurp the rights of individual landowners. Forced pooling would allow drilling companies to extract gas under unleased properties."

Gas industry interests have called for the enactment of forced pooling to advance the development of the state's vast gas resource. Such a measure would make severance taxes on gas production, expected to be enacted later this year, easier to swallow. Pennsylvania state Sen. Lisa Baker, a Republican from Lehman Township, opposes forced pooling and wants the question of a severance tax weighed separately (see NGI, July 26).

And in Pittsburgh, one city councilman has a message for gas producers that would drill within his city's boundaries: You're not in Fort Worth, TX, anymore.

Pittsburgh City Councilman Doug Shields has drafted a bill to ban gas drilling within the city of Pittsburgh and he's calling it "Pittsburgh's Community Protection from Natural Gas Extraction Ordinance."

According to Shields, "commercial extraction of natural gas in the urban environment of Pittsburgh poses a significant threat to the health, safety and welfare of residents and neighborhoods within the city; and...widespread environmental and human health impacts have resulted from commercial gas extraction in other areas, and...environmental and economic sustainability cannot be achieved if the rights of municipal majorities are routinely overridden by corporate minorities..."

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