Shale game: A litany of violations builds the case for a tax

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On Monday the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association released an eye-popping report. Using state records, it counted 1,435 violations committed in Pennsylvania since 2008 by Marcellus Shale drilling companies. Two-thirds of those incidents were identified as having or likely to have an environmental impact.

And this was the industry the Legislature balked at taxing when it just passed the state budget?

Sure, lawmakers and Gov. Ed Rendell have said a severance tax will be in place by Oct. 1, but that comes only a month before every House seat and half the Senate seats will be up for election. Not an ideal time to vote for a new tax. So call us skeptical.

But if more proof were needed to show this tax is a necessity, it came with the association's report. The state records on which it was based showed 277 violations for poor erosion and sedimentation plans during well pad, road and piping construction; 268 for improper construction of waste water impoundments; 154 for discharging industrial waste; 100 violations of the state Clean Streams Law and 16 for improper blowout prevention.

State agencies like the Department of Environmental Protection and the Fish and Boat Commission are trying to stay ahead of the drilling boom and its impact. But they need more personnel and a greater ability to oversee and regulate the newly arrived industry.

That's one thing that a severance tax would provide. Another is help for communities that are damaged by drilling activity. Concern over that possibility is mounting, by private citizens and local officials, yet the state is forced to play catch-up because of an exceedingly tight budget.

Meanwhile, the industry has hired former Gov. Tom Ridge and his associates at the handsome price of $900,000 a year to be its advisers on Marcellus Shale issues and activity in Pennsylvania. The only way the public's interests can be protected is through a severance tax on drilling, like those that already exist in 28 states.

In Pennsylvania, such a tax could produce $100 million to $200 million a year. Whatever the dollar amount, 1,435 violations from a new industry prove that the revenue is needed -- for regulation, protection and insurance that this new form of commerce will not make a victim of Pennsylvania.


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