The Pennsylvania state legislature has been very active in the past week on the issue of hydraulic fracturing.  Earlier this week, the state senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 1346, which would amend the state’s Environmental Good Samaritan Act to encourage the use of mine water (known as acid mine drainage, or AMD) for Marcellus shale natural gas well development.  SB 1346 borrows significantly from policy recommendations acknowledged in a 2011 report issued by the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.    

Specifically, the bill alters the definitions of “eligible land and water”, “mine operator”, “treated mine drainage” and “water pollution abatement facilities” to include the use of AMD (which can be very costly to treat) in hydraulic fracturing operations.  The bill proposes that a land owner or mine operator who allows the withdrawal of AMD, or a natural gas operator who withdraws AMD to hydraulically fracture a well, would not be deemed to assume legal responsibility or to incur liability with respect to cost, injury, or damage arising from the use of AMD.  This would include any injury or damage suffered by a downstream riparian landowner.  Provisions in SB 1346 also would require the state’s Department of Environmental Protection to review and approve such projects if it is demonstrated that the use of AMD will preserve water quality and availability.  SB 1346 now heads to the state House of Representatives, and has been referred to the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee for consideration.

This week also saw the introduction of Senate Bill 1616, which would establish the Marcellus Shale Health Advisory Panel within the Pennsylvania Department of Health.  In addition to the state’s Secretary of Health, 12 other members would be appointed by the Governor and legislature to serve on the panel.  The committee would be charged to:  consult with those involved with and affected by the extraction and use of unconventional shale gas reserves; consult with persons conducting research regarding extraction and use of shale gas reserves and the potential effects on public health, and; investigate advancements in science technology and public health data to provide analysis and recommendations regard the safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible  extraction and use of shale gas in Pennsylvania.

SB 1616 was referred this week to the Public Health and Welfare Committee for consideration.  This blog will continue to monitor the progress of these bills.