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Friday, September 13, 2013

UCS publishes fracking information toolkit

The Union of Concerned ScientistsCenter for Science and Democracy has published an excellent new toolkit that offers practi­cal advice and resources to help citizens understand the complexities of hydraulic fracturing operations that may be taking place or that are being proposed in their communities.

Science, Democracy, and Fracking: A Guide for Community Residents and Policy Makers Facing Decisions over Hydraulic Fracturing is intended to help identify the critical questions that citizens need to ask and help them to get the scientific information they need to make informed decisions about shale oil or shale gas development.  UCS describes the toolkit here.

I’m proud to have served as a reviewer of the document for UCS, along with many of my fellow attendees at UCS’ forum on Science, Democracy, and Community Decisions on Fracking in Los Angeles that was held in Los Angeles in July.

The toolkit is well worth reading.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

PA gas industry guns for self-inflicted wound by supporting bill to undermine conservation

The natural gas industry’s social license to operate is based on its ability to safely extract gas with minimal impacts to the environment and public health. An essential measure is the effect gas and pipeline development has on the plants, animals, habitats and ecosystems – particularly the rare and endangered ones - that comprise Pennsylvania’s natural heritage.

While industry leaders, governments, and NGOs worldwide are calling for smart, sensitive planning to reduce environmental impacts and conserve natural resources, Pennsylvania’s shale gas industry is throwing its support behind proposed legislation that would seriously undermine the state’s ability to conserve endangered species.
Currently, gas drillers and pipeline companies must go through an extensive habitat review process to check for threats to rare or endangered wildlife or plants that are present in the area of their proposed developments.  Measures are then often required to avoid or mitigate those impacts.
House Bill 1576 would force the state’s Game Commission and the Fish and Boat Commission to prove the presence of endangered species, rather than requiring gas companies to conduct their own field studies. It would make it harder to place endangered species on the protected list and keep them there.  It would require the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) to create a centralized database of these habitats and essentially make the information available to anyone requesting it. Information on the location of rare plants and animals is not currently public to prevent poachers from hunting threatened animals or collectors from harvesting rare plants.  The bill provides a penalty of $250-$5000 for anyone who misues this sensitive data - like, for example, a developer tearing up pesky rare plants so he doesn't have to spend money to avoid them.
The bill would also give the Independent Regulatory Review Commission and the state legislature more control over endangered species designations.  That would violate federal regulations, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and could force the commissions to lose $27 million in federal grants.
The two commissions and DCNR have recognized the need to improve the way that Pennsylvania manages its protected species and the development process.  They have been working on a new, computerized review tool for the last five years, but have run out of money to finish the project. The bill provides no resources for that effort.
HB 1576 myopically endangers the state’s natural heritage.  The natural gas industry jeopardizes its social license to operate by unwisely supporting it.