Shale Insight 2013: Newt Gingrich and the ‘R’ word

     Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual industry conference in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich addresses the Marcellus Shale Coalition's annual industry conference in Philadelphia. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Regulators need to keep up with industry, not the other way around, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich told a packed ballroom Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia.

    Gingrich was the keynote speaker at the 2013 Shale Insight Conference, the third annual gathering of drilling industry leaders hosted by the Marcellus Shale Coalition that began Wednesday.

    Speaking to reporters before his speech, the former Republican presidential candidate slammed the Environmental Protection Agency for unnecessary bumps on the road to American energy independence.

    “It’s a very interesting moment in American history and I think one in which we’ll see almost inevitably the weight of technological and scientific progress grind down the regulators,” he said.

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    Pennsylvania’s governor broached the subject more gently. Addressing early morning conference-goers in a welcome video, Gov. Tom Corbett credited Marcellus Shale development with inspiring a second industrial revolution. But unlike the first, he vowed Pennsylvania will protect the environment.

    “We have achieved a great deal,” Corbett said. “Inspections are up, but so is compliance.”

    In his introduction to Gingrich, Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley echoed the governor, noting the Department of Environmental Protection has doubled its oversight over Marcellus Shale drilling and strengthened standards for water treatment without sacrificing jobs for Pennsylvania residents.

    Regulation plays an important role at the Shale Insight conference where drilling operators sit side-by-side on panels with policymakers to discuss what the current regulations are and how they are changing with the fast pace of the industry. And it’s clear there is some tension.

    “I hate to use this word, but it’s what I do,” said Kelly Heffner, Deputy Secretary for Water Management for the state Department of Environmental Protection, as she began her presentation. “Water Withdrawal Regulation. There it is. The ‘R’ word.”

    In a panel on water resources, an employee with Cabot Oil and Gas told the panelists he couldn’t understand the months of delay while waiting on approval for identical water withdrawal forms by both the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection.

    “What we think is a quick turnaround doesn’t always meet the industry’s needs,” said Andrew Dehoff with the SRBC. The commission is trying to fix that by putting applications online and incentivizing the use of lower quality waters, among other initiatives.

    When asked to give the industry just one piece of advice for getting permits done faster, DEP’s Heffner told a story. A company applying for a permit refused answer a question about how it planned to minimize and mitigate environmental impacts.

    “The answer on the form was ‘we don’t have to,'” she said, urging operators to answer the question.

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