The Butler Eagle published an article recently regarding Act 13, known as the Impact Fee. Regrettably, I found the article to be filled with misleading and factually incorrect statements, most of which were based on a misunderstanding of the new law.
Act 13 is comprehensive legislation that implements an impact fee on natural gas extraction, upgrades environmental regulations, promotes the conversion of vehicle fleets to natural gas and calls for consistency in local zoning ordinances. This legislation updates the Oil and Gas Act, which hasn’t had substantive changes since 1984.
Some have created hysteria by saying Act 13 does things it simply does not. It was asserted in the article in question that Act 13 overrides important federal environmental protection laws. Actually, that couldn’t be further from the truth.
Anyone familiar with how the federal and state regulatory process works knows that Pennsylvania must have a regulation no less stringent than the federal standard. Furthermore, Act 13 improves upon the Oil and Gas Act by increasing setback distances from homes, personal water wells and public drinking water supplies and creates one of the highest well-bonding requirements in the country.
In addition to the new requirements, the companies still are subject to the federal Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, the Pennsylvania Clean Streams Law, the Air Pollution Control Act, the Solid Waste Management Act, erosion and sediment control and post-construction stormwater discharge and other statutory and regulatory requirements.
Assertions also were made that the new act releases drillers from cleanup responsibility in water well contamination. In actuality, Section 3218 of the act explicitly states that “a well operator who affects a public or private water supply by pollution or diminution shall restore or replace the affected supply with an alternate source of water. . . .” The companies also would be subject to all criminal and civil penalties authorized by law.
Additionally, the idea that this legislation prohibits doctors from sharing information on any negative health impact of gas drilling with other doctors or the community is simply not true. The language incorporated into the act was mirrored after the Colorado hydraulic fracturing disclosure language, which was widely supported by environmental groups across the country. It gives health care providers greater access to information they need to treat a patient, not less access as the article infers.
On April 18, Marilyn J. Heine, M.D., president of the Pennsylvania Medical Society, issued a press release stating, “As physicians, our first priority is the health of our patients. We applaud the Corbett administration and the Legislature for enacting a law that requires natural gas drillers to publicly disclose the chemicals they use as part of the hydraulic fracturing process. Language in Act 13 demonstrates their concern for public safety by empowering physicians, when they need to treat patients, with the ability to obtain from drilling companies’ proprietary chemical compounds not otherwise publicly disclosed.”
Moreover, this legislation provides a steady funding stream to a number of environmental programs, including the Environmental Stewardship Fund. The Renew Growing Greener Coalition was quoted as saying they are “pleased with the passage of House Bill 1950 (Act 13) due to the environmental funding and commends the leadership of the General Assembly, legislators, and the governor for taking the first step toward renewing funding for the Environmental Stewardship Fund and Growing Greener programs and projects.” Contrary to Reid Joyce’s comments in the article in question, subsidies were given to the environmental community and not the gas industry.
Finally, the article refers to a pending lawsuit directly related to zoning provisions within the bill. Simply, this section allows an operator or person with a royalty interest in land to request the state Public Utility Commission to review a local ordinance to determine whether it allows for the reasonable development of oil and gas. This is similar to Pennsylvania’s ACRE program, which reviews disputes between the agricultural community and local governments. The zoning provisions in the legislation continue to allow municipalities to impose reasonable restrictions, including setbacks, and lighting and noise restrictions consistent with other industrial activities in a zoning district.
Furthermore, if a municipality determines that no well site can be placed so that a wellhead is at least 500 feet from a building in a residential district, the municipality retains the power to prohibit oil and gas operations.
I also would like to point out that general support came from organizations such as the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors, Pennsylvania State Association of Boroughs and the Pennsylvania League of Cities and Municipalities.
Act 13 should be promoted as good for impacted communities, the environment and Pennsylvania as a whole. Anything less would be doing the public a disservice.