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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Must the boom go bust?

Pennsylvania’s history is punctuated by waves of natural resource extraction - and by the boom and bust cycle that tragically accompanied them. The effects of that cycle are typically regional – after all, even stupendous shale gas production has not created statewide prosperity.  They're always felt locally. Usually, painfully.

While natural gas production in Pennsylvania is still on an amazing upward trajectory, it's not too soon - actually, past time - to look ahead.  Is the Keystone State condemned to repeat the mistakes of its past? One part of Pennsylvania, at least, is determined to chart a wiser course.

A new study released by the Environmental Law Institute (ELI) and Washington & Jefferson College’s Center for Energy Policy & Management (W&J Center) explores “best practices to forestall or mitigate” a “bust” that could come at the end of Pennsylvania’s shale gas boom.

To avoid the bust potential…(k)ey strategies to maintain economic viability include seeking economic diversification, as well as recognizing and preserving a base of renewable natural resources that can sustain outdoor recreation, travel, and tourism. Similarly…local governments have zoning authority that may allow them greater influence over shale gas siting decisions…Local governments can use their zoning powers to recognize locally-meaningful distinctions in land forms and compatible and incompatible land uses. [That authority and alternatives include] operator-community engagement and consensus building... 
(S)pecific best practices that could advance community well-being over the long run and avoid or ameliorate any potential for a bust [include] the need for jobs and workforce training, a careful examination of housing values and the effects of water use, potential preventative responses to damaged roads, opportunities to examine and seek correction of environmental impacts, priorities for needed public health research, planning for durable investments resulting from expenditures of short-term impact fees, use of zoning powers to recognize incompatible land uses, and the opportunity to take advantage of community engagement plans and consensus methods. 
The study – and other research results from this collaboration -  provide a set of must-read tools for local officials across the state – and beyond.

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