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Ohio Utica Shale

Pennsylvania drilling groups want endangered species changes

By Bob Downing Published: September 10, 2013

From the Associated Press:

By KEVIN BEGOS

As gas drilling booms in Pennsylvania, major industry groups are backing efforts to change the state’s endangered and threatened species laws, alterations that environmentalists say could have far-reaching effects on wildlife.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition, the Pennsylvania Independent Oil & Gas Association, and the Associated Petroleum Industries of Pennsylvania outlined their support in an Aug. 26 letter obtained by The Associated Press. The industry said the proposed legislation provides for "more efficient and effective resource development" as well as "transparency and accountability."

Legislation in the state House and Senate would put some limits on the exclusive authority that the Pennsylvania Game Commission and Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission currently have to list birds, animals, fish and other species, and to grant special consideration to special Wild trout Streams.

The bills would instead give the state Independent Regulatory Review Commission a major role in the listing process.

George Jugovic, a lawyer with the environmental group Penn Future, said the existing system is working well, and that the political independence of the Game and Fish commissions makes them better able to protect at-risk species. In contrast, the Regulatory Review Commission members are political appointees.

The legislation "is a bad idea wrapped in a number of bad ideas," Jugovic said.

The state programs are separate from federal endangered species listings and are often used to manage species that are threatened in a particular region but perhaps not nationally. Pennsylvania lists about 88 birds, fish, amphibians and other animals as endangered or threatened. For example, the black-crowned night heron is listed as endangered in Pennsylvania, but not nationally.

In practical terms, developers and oil and gas companies face additional restrictions when a parcel of land is listed as habitat for a threatened or endangered species.

Kathryn Klaber, the CEO of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, noted in an email that "every industry that moves dirt" must go through a comprehensive habitat review process prior to development, including coordination with multiple states agencies.

The Pennsylvania Builders Association also supports changing the laws, said spokeswoman Melissa Etshied.

The state Fish and Boat Commission has serious concerns about the proposed changes.

Executive director John Arway told legislators last month that the proposed changes have "the very real potential to severely compromise" the state’s ability to protect species. The legislation requires a re-evaluation of the status for all species on the list within two years. Arway said that "will be virtually impossible, which means many species will go unprotected."

Arway said that since the legislation would only protect federally listed endangered species, other fish and animals "may disappear from Pennsylvania’s waters, wetlands and landscape."

Jugovic said the proposed changes could make it nearly impossible to list new species, make it easier to develop sensitive areas and threaten federal conservation grants.

Rep. Martin Causer, a Turtlepoint Republican and chair of a key committee, told the AP that many legislators feel the process of listing threatened and endangered species "needs to be looked at."

Causer said one of his key concerns is that there needs to be more opportunity for public comment in the process.

"I think there will have to be amendments to the bills," Causer added, based on a public hearing that was held last month. He said another hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17 in Indiana, Pa., and he’s interested in hearing more comments from sportsmen and environmental groups about their concerns.

The Marcellus Shale Coalition provided a copy of the joint industry letter to the AP, but it’s not clear how much of a role Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration has in the proposal.

Patrick Henderson, Corbett’s energy executive, declined to say whether his office has lobbied for the proposed changes.

The gas-rich Marcellus Shale has led to a drilling boom in Pennsylvania over the last five years, with thousands of new wells and hundreds of miles of new pipelines. That’s brought jobs and billions of dollars in royalty payments to landowners, but also concerns over environmental impacts. The shale formation also extends under Ohio, West Virginia and New York.

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Utica and Marcellus shale web sites

Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management State agency Web site.

ODNR Division of Oil and Gas Resources Management. State drilling permits. List is updated weekly.

ODNR Division of Geological Survey.

Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Farm Bureau.

Ohio Oil and Gas Association, a Granville-based group that represents 1,500 Ohio energy-related companies.

Ohio Oil & Gas Energy Education Program.

Energy In Depth, a trade group.

Marcellus and Utica Shale Resource Center by Ohio law firm Bricker & Eckler.

Utica Shale, a compilation of Utica shale activities.

Landman Report Card, a site that looks at companies involved in gas and oil leases.FracFocus, a compilation of chemicals used in fracking individual wells as reported voluntarily by some drillers.

Chesapeake Energy Corp,the Oklahoma-based firm is the No. 1 driller in Ohio.

Rig Count Interactive Map by Baker Hughes, an energy services company.

Shale Sheet Fracking, a Youngstown Vindicator blog.

National Geographic's The Great Shale Rush.

The Ohio Environmental Council, a statewide eco-group based in Columbus.

Buckeye Forest Council.

Earthjustice, a national eco-group.

Stop Fracking Ohio.

People's Oil and Gas Collaborative-Ohio, a grass-roots group in Northeast Ohio.

Concerned Citizens of Medina County, a grass-roots group.

No Frack Ohio, a Columbus-based grass-roots group.

Fracking: Gas Drilling's Environmental Threat by ProPublica, an online journalism site.

Penn State Marcellus Center.

Pipeline, blog from Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Marcellus shale drilling.

Allegheny Front, environmental public radio for Western Pennsylvania.