Looking to keep up with the explosion of exploration and production activity coming into the Marcellus Shale, the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commission (PUC) on Thursday said it will hold a special en banc hearing on April 22 to examine jurisdictional issues related to natural gas development in the play.

“This development will unleash billions of dollars of natural gas production, and will have untold impacts on our economy,” said Vice Chairman Tyrone J. Christy and Commissioner Robert F. Powelson in a motion. “A recent Penn State study estimated that Marcellus will generate $13.5 billion per year in economic value and create 175,000 jobs by 2020 just to Pennsylvania. However, this development creates numerous issues and unanswered questions, many of which impact this commission’s core functions. We believe that these issues need to be examined and these questions answered sooner rather than later so that we can fully protect the public while not stifling economic growth.”

The PUC voted 4-0 to hold the hearing on April 22. The commission noted that it has jurisdiction over certain safety aspects as it pertains to natural gas pipelines, but that the hearing will not examine issues outside of its jurisdiction such as water quality or other environmental issues.

Christy and Powelson noted that no one is quite sure how much gas is contained in the Marcellus Shale. In 2002 the U.S. Geological Survey estimated the shale contained 1.9 Tcf of natural gas, which was revised in 2008 to 50 Tcf, the commissioners said. “To put that in perspective, some estimate that the Marcellus Shale contains enough natural gas to meet this country’s energy demand for over 20 years, and Pennsylvania’s energy demand for well over 100 years,” they said.

The four PUC commissioners will conduct the en banc hearing to solicit comments from specific parties who are being invited. As part of the informal en banc hearing process, the commissioners said they may pose questions to speakers after their testimony.

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