HARRISBURG -- Members of the governor's new Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission spent the morning of their first day-long meeting organizing and outlining their daunting challenge: determining what changes the state should make in its oversight and encouragement of gas drilling.
They have 120 days from today to report back to Gov. Tom Corbett. The commission's 30 members will be breaking into four work groups -- health, safety and environmental protection; economic and workforce development; infrastructure; and local impacts and emergency response.
The panel's chairman, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley, described the panel's agenda as "ambitious" but important to the commonwealth's future.
He asked panel members to focus on what the state's energy industry will look like in 20 or 30 years, and the potential economic boon, particularly to distressed rural communities.
"I see a Pennsylvania where phrases like 'brain drain' are a thing of the past," Mr. Cawley said.
Commission members, who represent state government, local communities, environmental advocates, industry leaders and academia, repeatedly urged a "fact-based" process to figure out the best way to responsibly grow the drilling industry. But local officials and environmentalists also urged consideration of some form of tax or fee on drillers to help townships and others recoup costs from various impacts.
They also heard from staff from the Department of Environmental Protection, who noted that the state has more oil and gas oversight staff than any state except Texas. Pennsylvania has 202 oil and gas staffers in DEP, including 78 inspectors.