Three state legislators from Northampton County are hosting a public hearing on Marcellus Shale gas drilling, also known as fracking, at 1 p.m. today at Bethlehem Town Hall.
A representative of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, which represents gas drilling interests has been invited to testify, along with representatives of environmental groups and a “local government think tank,” according to a news release issued by the three hosting legislators.
"As natural gas drilling forges on in Pennsylvania, I look forward to this opportunity for the residents of the Lehigh Valley to join in the discussion," state Rep. Joseph Brennan, D-Northampton/Lehigh, said through the release.
"The legislature has a lot to look at in terms of managing the Marcellus Shale, and I’m excited to be a part of a forum where our constituents’ voices can be heard."
State Reps. Steve Samuelson, D-Lehigh/Northampton, and Bob Freeman, D-Northampton, are the other legislators hosting the event for the House Democratic Policy Committee.
As the process of drilling for natural gas has expanded in Pennsylvania, more and more people have raised concerns around the process and the possibility of ground water contamination.
A study released earlier this week by Duke University scientists showed that the methane levels in wells within one kilometer of a gas drilling operation is 17 times higher than those further away.
It has not been proven that a high concentration of methane in drinking water is harmful. However, methane does collect in enclosed spaces and is flammable, creating the potential for explosions. It also can asphyxiate people in close quarters.
Despite these growing concerns, Pennsylvania is the only major natural gas producer that does not have a tax or fee on drilling, something these Democratic legislators aim to change.
All three have co-sponsored legislation to impose a severance tax or drilling fee on companies that drill. The news release said 64 percent of Pennsylvanians support such a tax. However, Gov. Tom Corbett has said would not support such legislation.
"We need better regulations and oversight of the drilling process and we need to impose a severance tax on the drillers, like other states do,” Freeman said in the release.
“They are going to reap significant profits from a Pennsylvania natural resource and the people of Pennsylvania should be compensated to deal with local impacts from the drilling, environmental needs and revenue needs to reduce the severe cuts in education and human services being proposed by the governor."