Senate committee approves Marcellus Shale Health Panel bill

U.S. Senate building
Source: DollarPhotoClub

Senate Bill 375, introduced by Senate Pro Tempore Joseph Scarnati (R-Jefferson), to create a Marcellus Shale health advisory panel, which never made it out of committee last year, was approved by the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee last week.

The panel would be tasked with thoroughly investigating and studying advancements in science, technology and public health data in order to provide Pennsylvania elected officials, regulators and the general public with information, analysis and recommendations regarding the safe, efficient and environmentally responsible extraction and use of unconventional natural gas reserves in the Commonwealth.

The advisory panel shall be composed of the following members:

  1. The Secretary of Health, who shall be the chairperson of the panel, or a designee who shall be an employee of the department.
  2. The Secretary of Environmental Protection or a designee who shall be an employee of the Department of Environmental Protection.
  3. Four members appointed by the General Assembly under subsection (c).
  4. Three members appointed by the Governor under subsection (c)(2) and (3).

Appointments by the General Assembly under subsection (b)(3) shall be made as follows:

  1. One individual shall be appointed by the President pro tempore of the Senate.
  2. One individual shall be appointed by the Minority Leader of the Senate.
  3. One individual shall be appointed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
  4. One individual shall be appointed by the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives.

Members appointed under subsection (b)(3) and (4) shall serve for a term of two years and:

  • may not hold any other position as an elected official or employee of the Commonwealth;
  • must be residents of this Commonwealth.

Both legislative and gubernatorial appointees shall each collectively have expertise or substantial experience in public health, earth and mineral sciences, environmental studies, shale gas extraction and natural gas use.

The members of the advisory panel shall not be entitled to compensation for their services as members of the advisory panel but shall be entitled to reimbursement by the department for all necessary and reasonable expenses incurred in connection with the performance of their duties as members of the advisory panel.

Initial appointments shall be made within 30 days of the effective date of this section. Whenever a vacancy occurs on the advisory panel, a successor member shall be appointed within 30 days of the vacancy. Any appointment to fill a vacancy shall be for the unexpired term. Members so appointed to fill the unexpired term of an initial appointee shall be subject to the provisions of subsection (g).

The advisory panel shall:

  • Meet as often as necessary but at least biannually.
  • Consult with experts involved with the extraction and use of natural gas reserves in this Commonwealth.
  • Consult with the department to review public health data relating to areas where shale gas extraction occurs and public health data relating to the benefits of the use of natural gas.
  • Consult with experts conducting research and studies meeting the peer review requirements of the department regarding potential public health effects from shale gas extraction and public health benefits from the use of natural gas.
  • Evaluate public health data regarding the extraction and use of natural gas and information regarding the techniques and procedures for shale gas extraction in order to provide elected officials, regulators and the general public with information and analyses regarding the safe, efficient and environmentally responsible extraction and use of natural gas reserves in this Commonwealth.
  • Submit an annual report on its activities to the Governor and General Assembly.

“There has been much discussion regarding the potential effects of Marcellus Shale drilling on public health and safety,” said Senator Scarnati.

“The creation of an advisory panel composed of experts from a wide range of fields including doctors, scientists, academics and industry leaders will provide Pennsylvania with a critical asset in addressing any current or future impacts arising from the development of the Marcellus Shale.”

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