Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection Sec. John Hanger pointed to the cleanup problems the state continues to deal with concerning another abundant natural resource as a situation no one wants to face again. He believes drilling for natural gas in the huge Marcellus Shale reserve doesn’t occur without potential problems.

“Some in the industry say, ‘don’t worry about drilling in the Marcellus,’ but I say, ‘worry,'” Hanger said. “Natural gas drilling is an industrial activity — there is no such things as no impact from natural gas drilling.”

“We still have 180,000 acres of abandoned mine lands that probably will take another century to clean up, and 5,000 miles of streams impacted by acid mine drainage. In each case, there was a company responsible for the problem,” Hanger said.

Public policy, laws and regulations on the books years ago weren’t sufficient to make companies responsible for today’s problems clean up their mess, according to Hanger. “Done badly, policies and regulations could mean a return to the past,” he said.

The state environmental protection leader was the keynote speaker Monday, kicking off the two-day Marcellus Shale policy conference at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh.

The university and the Pennsylvania Environmental Council brought together governmental, academic and environmental representatives in an effort to develop a series of Marcellus Shale recommendations related to water usage and pollution for the state legislature.

Growth in Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale activity continues unabated despite lower natural gas prices. Hanger said about 3,400 Marcellus Shale drilling permits have been granted state approval, and nearly 1,400 wells have been drilled. “By about 2014 we estimate the Marcellus could be providing 10% of the country’s entire natural gas production.”

“We’re currently adding one to two operating companies a week looking to do business in the Marcellus,” said Kent F. Moors, director of Duquesne University’s Energy Policy Research Group. “Operating costs continue to drop. We at the Energy Policy Research Group believe companies are making money if natural gas is selling at $3.60/Mcf, and Range Resources Corp. has said it makes money at its existing wells even if natural gas dropped to $2.20/Mcf,” Moors said.

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