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Petition Requests Analysis and Regulations Regarding Drilling In The Marcellus Shale

Essig_Genevieve_COLORBy Genevieve J. Essig


Yesterday, a group of environmental organizations, led by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, filed a joint petition requesting that certain federal agencies, with oversight from the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), prepare a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) assessing the cumulative impacts of drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation in the Chesapeake Bay states and promulgate regulations based on the findings. The petition asserts: "Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale formation has significant impacts within the Chesapeake Bay states and to the 35 national park units that lie within or in the vicinity of the formation – and those impacts demand that action be taken by the federal government to determine the best way to protect human health and the environment."

 The contemplated PEIS is both broader and narrower in scope than the United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) study currently underway to evaluate the potential risks to drinking water posed by hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," a practice that is increasingly being used for natural gas development in areas such as the Marcellus Shale. It is broader in that it seeks evaluation of impacts not only to water quality, but also to "air . . . forest land, national park land, wildlife habitats and ecosystems"; it is narrower in that it focuses geographically on drilling in the Marcellus Shale region and its impact on the Chesapeake Bay area. For example, it ties the necessity of a PEIS to, inter alia, compliance with an Executive Order aimed toward conservation and restoration of the Chesapeake Bay.

This petition comes as yet another expression of concern about the rate at which, and manner in which, natural gas development is progressing in various areas around the country, as technological improvements to techniques such as fracking and horizontal drilling make previously uneconomical sources of natural gas much more profitable. One aspect of that concern is the belief that enough is not known about the possible environmental effects of these practices, though they hold significant promise from an economic perspective.

The petitioners are the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF), National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA), Appalachian Center for the Economy and the Environment (ACEE), Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN), Shenandoah Valley Network (SVN), The Foundation for Pennsylvania Watersheds, Damascus Citizens for Sustainability (DCS), and Friends of the Upper Delaware River (FUDR). The federal agencies addressed by the petition are USEPA, Department of Interior (DOI), Department of Agriculture (USDA), Department of Energy (DOE), Department of Transportation (DOT), the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps), and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The petition can be accessed here. The letter addressed to President Obama accompanying the petition can be accessed here.