A coalition of conservancy and stakeholder groups critical of Pennsylvania’s natural gas drilling said Monday the state needs to slow the shale drilling pace to ensure that safeguards are in place to protect citizens.

The Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission (CMSC) issued a 95-page final report on its findings regarding the state of drilling in Pennsylvania. The report was the result of a two-month effort by the commission, which held five meetings across the state and heard testimony from 116 participants.

The commission was created in response to Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission (MSAC), whose report in July was designed to help craft a strategic plan for shale policies (see Shale Daily, July 26).

“Pennsylvanians believe that gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale has moved too quickly and that public officials need to do a better job protecting their communities and the environment,” the report said. The MSAC’s report, it said, failed to recognize how inadequate the state’s regulatory landscape is for shale drilling.

“There has been a rush to drill in the Marcellus Shale, but Pennsylvanians want to slow down and ensure the right protections are in place,” said former state Rep. Dan Surra, who co-chairs the CMSC.

Among other things, residents expressed concerns that state policies and regulatory processes lacked cohesion needed to address the cumulative impact of drilling on air, water, open spaces, forests, and human and social infrastructure.

“Citizens told us that the gas industry should be held to the same standards as other industries,” Carol Rubley, also a former state representative who also co-chairs the commission. “People want to know their families and communities will be safe.”

Citizen concerns were varied across the state. In western Pennsylvania stakeholders were concerned about noise pollution from drilling compressors, public water supply issues and open hydraulic fracturing water pits. They also were concerned about the loss of local zoning authority. Based on stakeholder testimony the CSMC recommended that the state:

In addition, the commission recommended that the state abandon the “current piecemeal process” to permit gas drilling sites and infrastructure and instead institute a comprehensive permit process “at all sites” and ensure that the process is transparent. The group also called on restoration of conservation district authority to review stormwater permits.

“Citizens believe their elected officials have let them down and are crying out for help,” said commission member Roberta Winters, who is vice president for issues and action of the League of Women Voters of Pennsylvania. “They want to know that their concerns are being heard and that the agencies entrusted to protect their constitutional right to clean air and water are defending their interests as watchdogs of the industry.”

Development of the Marcellus Shale continues to ramp up as producers stockpile acreage. According to company reports, NGI‘s Shale Daily found that Chesapeake Energy currently has the most acreage in the play with 1,750,000 net acres. The top five is rounded out with Range Resources (1,048,000 net acres), Consol Energy (750,000 net acres), Seneca Resources (745,000 net acres) and Chevron (714,000 net acres).