Philadelphia City Hall Hearing on Marcellus Shale

Julie Slavet
Oct 20, 2010

After a day long hearing of expert testimony on September 28th, Philadelphia City Council adopted a resolution supporting House Bill 2754, which was introduced by Representative Tony Payton (whose district includes parts of the TTF Watershed). The Bill calls for a three year statewide moratorium on hydrolic fracturing and establishes a Marcellus Shale Study Commission to “study and analyze the environmental, social and economic impacts of Marcellus drilling in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.”

So, what made City Council adopt this resolution? TTF staff were at the hearing all day, taking notes on all the testimony in order to understand this issue more fully. In the interest of getting the information out in a more timely manner, we’ll just highlight some of it here. (If you want an even more concise summary, check out this PhillyNow blog post from Nick Powell.

The day consisted of five panels of experts providing testimony.

Panel 1 included Dr. David Velinsky from the Academy of Natural Sciences, Dr. Joseph P. Martin of Drexel University and Dr. Michel C. Boufadel of Temple University (who you can see at next week’s AWRA talk.) Velinsky noted that while the Academy of Natural Sciences does not have an official position on the advantages and disadvantages of the shale, however, he argued for the need for more environmental studies in order to understand the long term effects of drilling. He remarked on several potential issues: “First, water withdrawal could have impacts locally on the quantity of water available for natural processes. Second, there could be impacts on water quality. This could happen from accidental spills, treatment of withdrawn water, or other, as yet, poorly understood processes.” Martin, on the other hand, argued for more industry-based regulation in order to prevent environmental damage, arguing that “the quality of the frack water is not the public’s problem, it is the problem of the producer.” Boufadel presented a great deal of scientific information, noting that there is a lack of objective scientific research on this topic, and arguing that we should look at the shale issue with the precautionary principle in mind. (Basically, this means that we should prove natural gas drilling will not harm the public or the environment before going forward with it.) He asserted that the industry must prove that toxic fracking waste left underground in the hundreds of millions of gallons will be safe for 10,000 years. He also pointed out that endocrine disruptors are feminizing fish in many rivers.

Panel 2 consisted of Kathryn Klaber from the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Bernard Brunwasser from the Philadelphia Water Department and Craig White from Philadelphia Gas Works. Klaber argued on behalf of the drilling industry, maintaining that the chemicals used in the fracking process are becoming more transparent and that Pennsylvania’s laws are among the strictest in the nation. She claimed that methane that had been found in rural wells is naturally occuring, pointing to a private study conducted by the Center for Rural PA. Brunwasser asked the crowd not to “mistake [PWD’s] vigorous scientific research for nonchalance.” He discussed research and monitoring steps that PWD is taking in order to track chemical levels in the water supply, mentioning the Delaware Valley Early Warning System in particular. White discussed Philadelphia Gas Works’ perspective on the Shale, noting that PGW is under a mandate to buy the least expensive gas possible, which at this time, due to existing pipelines, is Gulf Coast gas. PGW has no plans to purchase Marcellus Shale gas. During this panel, written testimony from Shawn Garvin, Regional Administrator for the EPA was also read aloud. This testimony argued for further studies that are transparent, objective, and peer-reviewed.

Panel 3 included Bill Walsh, a representative for Congressman Joe Sestak, Denise Dennis, a historic farmland owner, Iris Marie Bloom from Protecting our Waters, and Dr. Frederic Murphy from Temple University. Congressman Sestak’s representative argued for greater transparency, accountability, accessibility and increased scientific studies. He noted that there is “a risk when industry is allowed to police itself.” He also pointed out that most of the jobs that will be opening up for gas driller will go to highly-trained out-of-state workers, and pushed for training Pennsylvanians instead. Bloom began her testimony by explaining her long career as an activist and how “homeland security never tracked [me] until I began advocating for clean water” — a reference to this scandal. Bloom came prepared with facts about degrading water quality and air quality. She also refuted claims about new jobs for Pennsylvanians, claiming that the only new jobs will be for environmental lawyers. She noted that the Upper Delaware is the #1 most endangered river in U.S. already (according to the River Network) and asked for a “moratorium until science, not cash, can guide policy.” Murphy looked at the Shale issue from an economic perspective, concluding that the job numbers we’ve heard are probably inflated, and considering damages that drilling may create for other industries (e.g. fishing). Murphy noted that Pennsylvania has traditionally been a boom-and-bust state for natural resources, and that it would be better to have “1000 jobs for 100 years than 10,000 jobs for 10 years.” His conclusion was that we can afford to be more cautious, as this resource has been there for millions of years, and will still be there after more thorough studies have been conducted.

The star of the entire day was Denise Dennis, who got a standing ovation for her testimony, which argued that the natural gas industry is behaving like Big Tobacco by trying to suppress scientific information. Dennis also pointed out that shale investors so far are not American but multinational corporations (some whose home countries will not allow fracking): “The largest American-only gas company, Devon, has not invested in the Marcellus Shale because they think it is too risky.” She also noted that with the planning of a Pennsylvania to Canada pipeline, the gas “won’t stay in Pennsylvania and lower our bills, it won’t even stay in the U.S.” She finished her testimony by pointing out that the shale has been here for millions of years, “so we can afford to wait for the EPA and/or cumulative impact studies.”

Panel 4 included Carol Collier from the Delaware River Basin Commission, Scott Roberts from the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and Matthew Klayman from the Energy Coordinating Agency. Collier discussed finding the right level of regulation in order to fill in the current regulatory gaps. Roberts talked about how the DEP is making stricter requirements for hydrofrackers. Klayman made some interesting arguments about how the focus on natural gas is taking away from the real need to move away from finite fuel resources, arguing that “it is absolutely critical that Pennsylvania reduce its demand for energy as deeply and as quickly as possible in order to be able to withstand the relentless economic pressure of rising energy prices.” He noted that energy prices will be higher than ever once the shale resource is depleted.

Panel 5 consisted of Maya von Rossum from Delaware Riverkeeper Network, Brandy Russel from Clean Water Action (whose testimony we somehow missed — sorry!), Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark from the St. Joseph Sustainability Center at Chestnut Hill College, Rabbi Arthur Waskow from the Shalom Center, a representative for Roberta Winters of the League of Women Voters of PA, Shireen Parsons from Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, and Margery Stein Schab from NYH20. Von Rossum discussed the burgeoning eco-tourism industry on the Delaware River and how it might be affected by gas drilling. She argued that allowing gas drilling is counter-productive to the city’s watershed restoration efforts, noting that “every dollar invested in watershed protection can save a community between $7.50 and $200 in costs for new water treatment facilities.” Rabbi Waskow said that the shale issues are not different from historial issues, and relayed a religious parable about pausing to let the earth rest. If humans don’t pause to let the earth rest, he cautioned, then the earth will rest on us. Sister Mary Elizabeth Clark called for a moratorium on drilling until all health-related concerns have been investigated through objective studies. Parsons said that we don’t have a fracking problem, “we have a democracy problem,” in that people are held subordinate to corporate interests by our legislators and that current fracking regulations permit harm. The League of Women Voters expressed their support for a severance tax and for extending the moratorium on drilling. Stein Schab argued against the drilling, asking, “Have we come to a point of such utter callousness that we must compromise the rights of millions to clean water and air for the possible benefit of money and jobs?”

After the long day of testimony, Councilman Jones said that the day had given much for Council to think about regarding the need for environmental studies before drilling takes place. He quoted his fellow Councilmember, Marion Tasco, saying, “Act in haste, and repent in your leisure.”

To learn more about the issues with drilling in the Marcellus Shale, please visit these resources:





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