Pa. has been prudent with shale gas exploration

December 22, 2010

Del. Heather Mizeur's contends that Pennsylvania "launched head-first into the [Marcellus Shale drilling] industry with little regard to health and safety concerns" ("Water on fire? Time to put this on ice," Dec. 20). She ignores the reality that no other state since 2008 has added more staff or strengthened and enforced its rules governing natural gas drilling more than Pennsylvania.

Pennsylvania now requires a water plan controlling water withdrawals associated with drilling; prohibits drillers from dumping wastewater into waterways without first treating it to the safe drinking water standard; mandates a 150-foot buffer along 20,000 miles of streams from all development; and enforces state-of-the-art rules for designing, building and operating all gas wells.

Additionally, we've more than doubled our oversight staff during the past two years to 202 employees.

Even when done well, gas drilling will unavoidably have some impact on the environment. So that leads to the question: Why allow it?

Natural gas production offers significant economic and energy security benefits. Today, gas provides 24 percent of America's electricity and heats 51 percent of our homes.

As gas displaces coal and oil — two energy alternatives that cause more damage to public health and the environment than natural gas — we'll see other environmental improvements to our air, land and water. Remember that just one out-of-control oil well devastated the Gulf of Mexico.

We should focus on using more renewables and conserving more energy in the next decade. Over that time, though, if we don't use more gas to make electricity and heat our homes, we will burn more coal and oil.

John Hanger, Harrisburg, Pa.

The writer is secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

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