By Bob Kalinowsk
JACKSON TWP. – Standing at a reservoir that provides drinking water to 30,000 residents in Luzerne County, state Rep. Phyllis Mundy on Monday called for a one-year moratorium on new natural gas drilling permits in Pennsylvania.
“We are allowing this industry to move ahead too fast,” Mundy said from the Huntsville Reservoir in front of approximately 75 concerned citizens. “We need to take a step back and give ourselves the necessary time to do this right. The risks of doing it wrong are simply too great and long-lasting.”
The Kingston Democrat plans to introduce the moratorium proposal later this week in Harrisburg, along with two other bills designed to protect drinking water from contamination due to Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
One bill would prohibit gas companies from drilling within 2,500 feet of a primary source of community drinking water, such as the Huntsville and Ceasetown reservoirs in the Back Mountain and Lake Scranton. The current distance is only 100 feet, Mundy said.
The other bill calls for a resolution to urge U.S. Congress to repeal a provision in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act, known as the “Halliburton loophole,” that exempts oil and gas drilling industries from restrictions on hydraulic fracturing near drinking water sources.
The Huntsville Reservoir is the drinking water source for 30,000 people in Luzerne County and the nearby Ceasetown reservoir serves 70,000 local residents. Much of the land surrounding the reservoirs has already been leased to gas drilling companies, Mundy said.
“The cost and the effect on human health if either or both of these reservoirs were to become contaminated â¦ is unimaginable,” Mundy said.
More than 3,100 gas drilling permits have already been issued by the state Department of Environmental Protection, including four in Luzerne County. Mundy conceded her proposed legislation would not affect permits already granted. She thinks a moratorium will allow state officials to monitor the industry before it expands further and “would allow us to recover ground lost while the industry has gathered momentum.”
“The current economic climate makes us very vulnerable to promises of easy money and good jobs. But we must ask ourselves – will this economic boon come at the expense of our infrastructure, our quality of life, our water supply, our safety, and our health?” Mundy said.
State Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski, D-Wilkes-Barre, attended the press conference and said he will support Mundy’s bills.
A spokesman for House Majority Leader Todd Eachus, D-Butler Township, said Eachus wanted to review the proposed legislation before deciding on whether to support a moratorium.
“Rep. Eachus supports Rep. Mundy’s passion and commitment to protecting the public and environment from the dangers of natural gas drilling. He stands with her in making sure they are held accountable,” said Eachus spokesman Bill Thomas.
Dr. Tom Jiunta, a member of Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, said many legislators openly admit they have concerns about the current regulation of the gas industry, but don’t do anything to cease the expansion.
“If you say you are concerned as a legislator, you can only mean that if you stop it first,” Jiunta said.
West Pittston Mayor Bill Goldsworthy, Mundy’s Republican opponent in November’s election, said Mundy should have proposed something before it came to such a critical point. At this point, he is in favor of the moratorium, he said.
“She has been there for 20 years. This should have all been done. All the rules and regulations should have been in place before these companies started drilling,” Goldsworthy said. “It’s almost like a football game where you say go ahead and start the game and we’ll give you the rules after the first quarter. It’s a shame it got to this point.”
State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, who is also planning to introduce legislation related to gas drilling restrictions, released a prepared statement Monday afternoon.
“I respect the effort to defend the environment, and I understand the urge to allow our laws and regulations to catch up with the industry,” Boback said. “I am proud to say that as legislators we are working tirelessly and we all have the same goal – protecting the lives and health of the people we represent and ensuring we have laws in place to guard our natural resources.”