Friday, May 27, 2011

File Under 'Cart Before the Horse'

The Post-Gazette reported Wednesday that State Sen. Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne Co.) got a bill through her Senate Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness committee (an interesting combination there) that would require energy companies drilling in the Marcellus Shale to:
  • Draft and file Emergency Operations Plans with local emergency response authorities
  • Post this and other emergency information at drilling sites, so as to be easily referenced by personnel when needed
  • Ascertain the Latitude/Longitude (GPS) coordinates of all drilling sites, and assure that wellsite personnel, responders, and the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) are aware of them.
This is an excellent idea, although I'm wondering out loud how such a set of requirements did not exist previously via existing rulemaking or legislation. It's not as if drilling, mining, or other heavy industrial activities in rural areas haven't occurred here before. Something that Sen. Baker's office put in their press release may explain this a little better than I can:
"It is extremely important for the gas industry to coordinate emergency response plans with first responders and state and local officials," Baker said. "This issue is too important to leave up to voluntary compliance."
Is 'voluntary compliance' with rules and requirements that may change by municipality, the norm or the exception? Let's hope it's the latter, and that the full Senate, House, and Gov. Corbett will show the same enthusiasm for this bill. Something like this should have been in place before a single drill bit breached Pennsylvania soil in search of gas from the Marcellus Shale. It seems long overdue.

In a related matter, the Post-Gazette also committed much ink in this past Sunday's edition to the plight of rural Pennsylvanians without adequate mobile telephone service and broadband Internet connections.

The P-G's story focused on Sullivan County, where many components of public service delivery systems risk being overwhelmed with activity related to drilling, and things that 9-1-1 operators in many areas take for granted, such as GPS coordinates for calls received from mobile phones, are non-existent in the majority of circumstances.

The influx of personnel and capital from energy companies will likely help foment a more rapid deployment of these capabilities; the private sector seems more flexible and responsive to issues and opportunities than the public sector when it comes to these kinds of issues. That is the essence of capitalizing on what the Marcellus has to offer. However, without adequate safeguards and planning contingencies that Sen. Baker's legislation would likely help provide, what is the potential cost to the region's quality of life?

I should probably state here and now that I am not opposed to drilling - that is an unrealistic stance in a country, and a region, largely built on this type of activity. I am opposed to allowing it to proceed without a strong, responsive, efficient, and empowered system of checks, balances, and meaningful enforcement. These efforts too often seem to always be playing catch-up and politics with what is really going on in the field.

Speaking of what's going on in the field, Sewickley Patch reported yesterday that the drivers of at least two large trucks were cited recently for being overweight on municipal roadways. This may be just the beginning of a trend when there's frack water to be hauled to wellsites...

Let's hope that Senator Baker's bill is the first step in a better direction, and that those improvements in access to technology in rural areas that may be a consequence of energy development do not come at the price of the communities themselves.

Also, please remember those that have paid the ultimate price for our freedom while you're enjoying this Memorial Day weekend. I'll be working, but remembering as well, and not just about that.

Until next time...

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