"We recognize the significant economic importance of extracting gas from Marcellus Shale. However we have serious concerns about the cumulative, long-term consequences of the extraction process," said Olivia Thorne, President, PA League of Women Voters.
Thorne called for adoption of a severance tax on the extracted gas and a moratorium on drilling in State Forest land. She said the moratorium is needed to provide time to compile data, review implications and develop adequate safeguards.
She cited a provision in Article I Article 27 of Pennsylvania's Constitution which states, "Pennsylvania's public natural resources are the common property of all the people" and that the people "have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment.
Both a severance tax and expanded leasing in State Forests have been proposed to help cover revenue shortfalls caused by the economic recession. Thorne said because the natural gas is a finite resource, neither a severance tax nor leasing revenue should be used as "a short term fix for an ailing budget."
The League's position statement notes severance tax revenue should be used primarily to monitor the public health impacts of natural gas extraction, preserve and enhance the state's natural resources, to create an escrow fund for supporting community adjustment as the natural gas industry grows and declines, and to conduct research on the effects of natural gas extraction on the economy, environment and public health of Pennsylvania.
Thorne emphasized regulatory oversight is still evolving and "time is required to bring essential money, manpower and expertise to meet the challenges of comprehensive oversight." The League's position statement calls for "requiring the use of best practices, and promoting comprehensive regulation, communication and adequate staffing across government agencies."
Thorne called attention to the enormous profit private industry will gain from natural gas extraction. "Big money," she said, "encourages big spending on campaign contributions to gain access to policymakers." She called on the Pennsylvania Legislature to enact legislation to limit the size of contributions to the campaigns of candidates for statewide public office. Pennsylvania is one of only eleven states that do not limit campaign contributions.
The LWV President also cautioned while natural gas is promoted as a cleaner burning fuel than coal or oil, it is still a fossil fuel that contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. "In the long run," she said, "the discovery of greater access to large amounts of this cleaner burning fuel is not a substitute for enacting policies that encourage energy conservation and the development of clean, renewable energy resources."
Marcellus Shale is a rock formation approximately one mile under two-thirds of Pennsylvania. It is estimated to contain enough natural gas to supply our nation's energy needs for decades to come. However, extraction depends on a process called "fracing" for each well consumes millions of gallons of water loaded with sand and chemicals to release the trapped gas. The fracing process and related infrastructure needs have raised concerns about its impact for Pennsylvania's environment and the quality of life for its citizens.
The study was adopted by delegates to the League's June 2009 state convention in response to concerns raised by members in counties where drilling was taking place.
Twenty-seven local League chapters, spanning the state from Washington to Susquehanna counties, organized study groups, sponsored public forums with experts representing various viewpoints, visited drilling sites and participated in webinars and other presentations at various universities and colleges.
Earlier this year over 350 members participated in consensus meeting that resulted in the position statement that was announced this week.
A copy of the report is available online. NewsClips: League Of Women Voters Calls For Extraction Tax On Marcellus Shale