New shale gas pact appears to call for federal regulation

An editorial from The Dominion Post 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — New cases of common sense never cease to surprise us.

Still, despite the shock at the agreement reached Tuesday at the Tri-State Shale Summit in Morgantown, no one should be in awe, yet.

The shared action plan we refer to — signed by Ohio, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — provides for cooperation, rather than competition, among these states to attract shale gas development and jobs to this region for the next three years.

The plan calls for coordinating marketing efforts, workforce training, investment policies and academic research, while capitalizing on Marcellus and Utica shale development.

But most importantly, this agreement calls for achieving this development “in an environmentally sound manner.”

First off, this agreement makes sense from many perspectives. Obviously, this region’s track record in natural gas production is staggering.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, these three states alone are responsible for 85 percent of the increase in U.S. natural gas production since January 2012.

Their potential for production of natural gas in the future many suspect will be far more impressive as pipeline grids expand, liquified natural gas facilities at major ports go on line and prices rebound. This agreement minces no words about these developments, calling this three-state area “an emerging world-class energy center.”

Even shale gas drilling’s byproducts are accounted for in this plan that seeks to bring major petrochemical manufacturers to this tri-state region.

It’s obvious the shale gas industry knows no boundaries geographically in this region, technologically in the extraction process or in its reserves.

What ’s not obvious though is will the boundaries of that phrase, “in an environmentally sound manner” be honored.

If experience teaches us anything about extraction industries in this region it is that just because something is said, or in print, doesn’t mean that it’s so.

Our state’s Department of Environmental Protection’s reputation for enforcing regulations is not one we would call encouraging, either.

The extraction process, known as fracking, in shale drilling involves a high pressure mix of water, sand and chemicals injected into shale to open rock layers and free the gas.

Since the shale gas surge got under way in 2008 our state has enacted laws that regulate its development, some that are still a work in progress.

But in such an interstate pact as this agreement it appears that the federal government should begin a serious discussion about applying uniform regulations.

What one state allows, another may not, and it’s no stretch to surmise that the lowest common denominator may prevail.

Because greed, a constant force that often borders on a crime, has never known boundaries.

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