Concerned that hydraulic fracturing (fracing) by Pennsylvania natural gas producers could threaten drinking water, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy (D-Luzerne) said she would introduce legislation to enact a one-year moratorium on new gas drilling and tighten restrictions on horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. Her announcement is similar to one made by a Republican lawmaker last Friday.

"As a representative of the people and longtime advocate for the environment, I am deeply concerned about the potential for harm from drilling and the hydraulic fracturing process," Mundy said. "While I certainly recognize the benefits that Marcellus Shale drilling is bringing to landowners and to our local economy, I also recognize the threat of irreparable harm that it poses without appropriate legislative, regulatory and monetary safeguards in place."

In the first measure Mundy is seeking to amend current law to prohibit companies that use fracing or horizontal drilling from drilling wells within 2,500 feet of a primary source of supply for a community water system, such as a lake or reservoir. The current restriction is 100 feet.

Mundy expressed concern over the potential of the water returned from hydraulic fracturing to pollute drinking water. She claimed that horizontal wells put a great amount of resources at risk for contamination because they can run thousands of feet in length. The bill also would prohibit horizontal drilling from occurring underneath sources of drinking water.

"Thousands of my constituents rely on Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs for drinking water. Contamination of one or both would equate to a serious public health crisis," Mundy said.

The second measure is a resolution urging Congress to pass the Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals (FRAC) Act. The act would repeal a provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act that exempts oil and gas drilling industries from restrictions on hydraulic fracturing operations located near drinking water sources, a provision known as the "Halliburton Loophole."

The year-old FRAC Act would also require oil and gas industries to disclose all hydraulic fracturing chemicals and chemical constituents currently considered proprietary rights of the company (see Daily GPI, June 10, 2009).

The third piece of legislation Mundy is introducing would establish a one-year moratorium on the issuance of new gas drilling permits to give the General Assembly more time to enact appropriate protections into law and regulation.

"Given the speed and breadth of the industry, government is currently at a severe disadvantage to fully evaluate the implications of dangerous drilling so close to home," Mundy said. "This package of bills will help us begin the long overdue task of properly regulating Marcellus Shale drilling in our state."

Last Friday Pennsylvania state Rep. Karen Boback (R-Columbia/Luzerne/Wyoming) said she would introduce her own legislation with drilling and drinking water in mind. It is similar in some ways to what Mundy said she would introduce.

"Natural gas drilling has the potential to be the most promising economic boon for our Commonwealth, but we have to proceed with caution and make sure we are putting the health and safety of our citizens first," she said. "I am introducing this legislation to put additional safeguards in place for the drinking water sources we all share and on which we rely. As we have seen from the [BP oil spill] catastrophe in the Gulf, once an accident occurs, it is difficult to restore our natural resources. I believe the best approach is to proceed with caution."

Boback's legislation would require companies seeking drilling permits in close proximity to public drinking water sources to provide to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP):

In addition, it would require DEP to notify all public water drinking operators within the watershed that a well permit has been submitted and to publish a notice in the PA Bulletin if it believes that a proposed well site will have the potential to affect a public water supply. Finally, it would include a prohibition on horizontal drilling beneath any public drinking water source and would increase the buffer between any drill site and public drinking water sources.

Other bills that would place a severance tax on natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, raise minimum royalty payments, require full disclosure of the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing and more could all soon be taken up for consideration by Pennsylvania lawmakers -- but the General Assembly's efforts to close a $1 billion budget gap might push at least some of those bills to a back burner (see Daily GPI, June 1).

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