Natural Gas/Emergency Issues in State Spotlight

Potter County Today

The state Senate panel that oversees emergency preparedness in the state hears testimony this week on how ready responders are to handle catastrophes related to natural-gas drilling. Sen. Lisa Baker, chair of the Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee, said that community groups and environmental activists are questioning whether plans to deal with well blowouts, leaks and spills are in place and detailed enough to meet the challenges posed by the increased drilling activity in the Marcellus Shale. Baker, R-Lehman Township, said those concerns warrant the attention of lawmakers.

“Community safety, public health and water quality are put at risk if there are any holes in emergency planning. With government budgets at every level under severe strain, it is a legitimate worry that preparation and training have not kept pace with the need,” Baker said. In the wake of a recent natural gas well blowout in Clearfield County, Baker said there are local rumblings that the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency was “either not ready or not properly engaged.”

“There is a responsibility to air the situation and find the facts,” Baker said.

Aaron Shenck, executive director of the committee, said he also believes state emergency officials were not notified until several hours after the well explosion, which took about 16 hours to contain. Shenck said a representative of PEMA and the state fire commissioner will testify at this week’s public hearing. Baker’s office also will invite representatives from the state Department of Environmental Protection and state police.

Baker said she is equally concerned about emergency preparedness at the local level. “The heavy truck traffic resulting from equipment and fracking (hydraulic fracturing) material being shipped in raises the possibility of collisions, turnovers and spills. We are dealing mostly with rural areas and small communities. What is the state of readiness? Is there the necessary coordination and communication between levels of government before we are tested by crisis? Are the resources immediately available when the worst happens?” Baker said.

To present testimony from a more local perspective, representatives of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania, the Keystone Emergency Management Association and the Lycoming County Task Force on Marcellus Shale also will be invited. At least one representative of the natural gas industry also will be invited to testify, Shenck said.


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