Report from pipeline taskforce elicits comment from supporters, foes

At 335 pages and counting, the report from a state task force charged with improving pipeline development in Pennsylvania is being billed as only the “start of a conversation” about reducing hurdles and conflict around the sweeping infrastructure buildout.

None of the 184 recommendations in the report will be binding without further government action, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley, the chair of the task force, assured the group at its final meeting last week.

Some of the suggestions are unlikely ever to be enforced.

“They are nothing more and nothing less than a set of recommendations by 158 experts and representative stakeholders on a very thorny, complex and interrelated problem,” Mr. Quigley said.

The final report is scheduled to be delivered to Gov. Tom Wolf sometime next week.

Mr. Wolf formed the group last July and instructed it to come up with smarter ways to develop infrastructure to get natural gas and liquids from the state’s Marcellus Shale wells to market. The state expects as many as 30,000 miles of pipeline, touching every county, to be built over the next decade.

Mr. Quigley said all of the recommendations have value and deserve consideration by officials and agencies that might put them into action.

Some of the recommendations were more strongly endorsed by the task force than others. Some suggestions that had the most support included: establishing early communication with local landowners; training emergency responders; minimizing the environmental impacts of stream crossings; ensuring adequate numbers of staff for permit reviews; expanding the PA One Call safety notification system to all pipelines; and attracting military veterans to the energy workforce.

“This is the start of a conversation,” Mr. Quigley said. “It is fertile ground.”

“Conversation” is a nice way of describing the debate around a deeply contentious topic. Pipeline opponents temporarily shut down the meeting last Wednesday in Harrisburg by protesting in the middle of the conference room. Seven were arrested for disorderly conduct.

During the public comment period, farmers in the path of planned pipelines described developers’ behavior as manipulative and unyielding, while union workers welcomed the construction projects as a tremendous opportunity for jobs.

The task force’s work has been criticized from opposite quarters who see the suggestions as alternately enabling or obstructing pipeline development.

The North Fayette-based Marcellus Shale Coalition urged the task force to eliminate all recommendations in the report that call for new regulations or laws, which could have “a chilling effect on efficiently deploying new infrastructure necessary to ensure that shale gas resources do not remain stranded.”

Others warned that the work could quickly be shelved and forgotten unless there is a meaningful effort to promote it.

“Simply announcing the task force report is one thing, but getting a real legislative dialogue is quite another thing,” one of the legislature’s representatives on the committee, Sen. Andrew Dinniman, D-Chester, said.

Most lawmakers are unaware of the task force’s discussions, he said, and are instead working to address energy issues on a separate, parallel track.

“It’s like this is a world, and there is another world over there, and the two have not met,” he said.

Laura Legere:

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