Drilling rules: State best suited to make big decisions

Posted: November 14, 2011

By Kathryn Z. Klaber

Pennsylvania has more than 2,500 township and municipal governments, more than California, Texas, New York, or Florida - all of which have significantly larger populations. These local governments are critical to the delivery of basic services and, being close to the people, can be more responsive and accountable to them.

But if local government is where everything begins in this state, it can also be where it comes to an end. Unfortunately, vague statutes and conflicting court rulings have created a situation in which two or three officials from a single township or borough can stand in the way of economic development even when they're in direct contravention of state law.

This is posing a threat to the already tightly regulated natural-gas exploration industry in the state. Even though Pennsylvania's Oil and Gas Act states, in very clear terms, that "all local ordinances and enactments purporting to regulate oil and gas well operations regulated by this act are hereby superseded," local government actions continue to unnecessarily impede the responsible development of clean-burning, job-creating natural gas in the commonwealth.

On any given night, a local governing body in Pennsylvania can pass a zoning or other ordinance that effectively eliminates the ability of landowners and businesses to develop natural gas on their property. Passing such a measure typically requires only a brief notice and public hearing, followed by a majority vote of a local governing board, which amounts to only two people in many municipalities.

By contrast, it can take months or even years to pass important legislation at the state level, and just as long to develop state regulations that cover a range of critical activities. Frankly, that's the way the system was meant to work.

The state legislature and Gov. Corbett's administration have been working on commonsense solutions to the serious challenges posed by inconsistencies among local governments. The goal is to establish consistency across the commonwealth in the management of land uses associated with natural-gas development, making it clear that any use of land associated with these activities is permitted in appropriate areas of any municipality. Such regulatory certainty would go a long way toward ensuring that the state's natural-gas reserves can be developed in a safe, orderly, and efficient way.

That would in turn ensure that Pennsylvanians continue to reap affordable energy prices, job creation, and other economic benefits associated with gas development. According to a recent analysis, in 2010 alone, Pennsylvania consumers, including those who live in the Philadelphia area, saved an estimated $633 million in energy costs as a result of natural-gas development in Pennsylvania. And more than 200,000 men and women in the commonwealth enjoy family-sustaining employment in the natural-gas and related industries, according to the state Department of Labor and Industry.

A comprehensive, uniform set of statewide health, environmental, and safety standards is critical to ensuring that investment and job growth continue to benefit Pennsylvanians. The legislature's recent efforts to assure regulatory clarity and certainty are key to keeping the state competitive and maximizing the economic, environmental, and energy benefits of natural gas.


Kathryn Z. Klaber is the president and executive director of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, based in Canonsburg. For more information, see www.MarcellusCoalition.org.

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