A key legislator in Pennsylvania said he plans to introduce a bill to create a nine-member Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel in the near future, a move suggested in the past by both Gov. Tom Corbett and the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (MSAC).

In a memo dated Sept. 19, Senate President Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R-Warren) told colleagues the panel “would be tasked with thoroughly investigating and studying advancements in science, technology and public health data in order to provide Pennsylvania elected officials, regulators and the general public with information, analysis and recommendations regarding the safe, efficient and environmentally responsible extraction and use of unconventional natural gas reserves in the Commonwealth.”

Scarnati proposed that the nine-member panel include the secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Health (PDOH) and appointees by the governor, president pro tempore of the Senate, speaker of the House, and the House and Senate minority leaders.

Scarnati Chief of Staff Andrew Crompton told NGI’s Shale Daily it was unlikely the advisory panel would be created before the end of the year because there were only six sessions left.

“We wanted to put it out now so we could start a conversation,” Crompton said Wednesday. “And quite frankly, it’s already started. There’s been some press interest, and there has also been interest among health care facilities. I’m sure we’ll hear from some environmental groups in the upcoming weeks, hopefully with ways that they could either impact this advisory board or make suggestions to it.”

Crompton said that during the negotiations last year to enact Act 13 — the state’s omnibus Marcellus Shale law — there was interest among legislators to create the advisory panel, too, but one never materialized (see Shale Daily, Feb. 15).

“We were hesitant to do it because it really wasn’t an executive-legislative shared panel,” Crompton said. “It was just the [PDOH receiving] money to do studies. Honestly, we didn’t know much more than that. We thought it was important to talk to doctors, scientists and others, and that’s why we proposed this advisory panel. We’re trying to make sure we get balanced information.”

Asked if the panel was also being set up to allay public fears over hydraulic fracturing, Crompton said, “I think those fears have been calmed to a fair degree; certainly we still see some.

“Everybody has their own agenda for this type of advisory panel, which is why it’s not going to be easily formed. Some people think we should study baselines and then look at individuals in the affected regions in five, 10 and 15 years for health impacts. That may become a part of this. But part of it is also to make recommendations on water and air as it relates to the industry, plus whatever studies the panelists think are important.”

In July 2011, the MSAC issued a 137-page report outlining 96 recommendations for developing the Marcellus Shale (see Shale Daily, July 25, 2011). Of those recommendations, 43 addressed health and safety issues, 26 were for economic development, 18 covered infrastructure and nine targeted local impacts.

This past summer health care providers Guthrie Health and Geisinger Health System formed a partnership to study the health impacts of Marcellus gas drilling, saying it would be “the first large-scale, scientifically rigorous assessment of the health effects of” natural gas production. A team from Guthrie and Geisinger will lead the effort to utilize their electronic health records to investigate the health effects of Marcellus gas drilling (see Shale Daily, Aug. 21).