The Democratic primary ended with all of the candidates essentially taking the same stances on natural gas extraction. All of the Democrats supported a moratorium on drilling on public lands, and all supported at least a 5% severance tax, with Rob McCord going further to support a 10% severance tax.
The candidates liked talking about these issues because they’re popular stances, but also because they’re easy to communicate. But there are other issues that we haven’t really heard a very detailed discussion about, like bonding requirements for drilling companies, or methane regulations, that are even more important than some of the more campaign-ready issues.
Take bonding requirements. In most markets, we do not want to create high barriers to entry for small businesses, but the “Godfather of Fracking” says the opposite is true in the extractive industries sector:
And Mitchell wants stiff regulation of drillers, especially small, independent players.
“I’ve had too much experience running independents,” Mitchell says. “They’re wild people. You just can’t control them. And if it doesn’t do it right, penalize the oil and gas people. Get tough with them.”
Small operators in the gas industry don’t have the money to cover the cleanup for a big well blowout. We require operators to carry insurance (via bonding requirements) saying they can cover the cost of damages.
But the bonding requirements PA Republicans set in Act 13 are a total joke, and amount to a massive public subsidy for clean up of abandoned wells. We require gas companies to be prepared to cover about $50,000 per well, when PennEnvironment says it should be about $250,000 per well.
None of the Democratic candidates ever had to say whether they’d support hiking bonding requirements, but John Micek says Tom Wolf is coming in to talk to the PennLive editorial board Thursday, so that seems like a great opportunity to find out what he thinks.
Another issue is fugitive methane. All of the Democratic candidates supported the idea of there being a private natural gas drilling sector, and opposed a moratorium on fracking on private lands.
And they all generally bought into the concept of natural gas being a “bridge fuel” that environmentalists taking the long view could support during the transition from mostly coal to mostly renewable energy production.
The premise there is that natural gas is cleaner than coal, but the problem for this view is that if you don’t force companies to contain the methane leakage, fracking is actually dirtier than coal.
We know where Tom Corbett stands on this stuff – he’s run an almost criminally negligent and obstructionist Department of Environmental Protection, which has essentially let the industry police itself.
Democrats couldn’t invent more cartoonishly evil Republican DEP heads than the ones Tom Corbett’s picked, but to expect Tom Wolf to merely do better would be setting the bar much too low.
Wolf so far has given kind of a weak answer on this, and hasn’t elaborated elsewhere, as far as I can google:
Pennsylvania is a major emitter of greenhouse gas, and I know we need to adopt stricter regulations and support innovative tools for reducing our emissions, especially as the natural gas sector continues to grow. As governor, I will work with key stakeholders to set new testing and monitoring regulations, and I will work with the private sector to promote the development of new technology that quickly and effectively detects fugitive methane emissions.
The technology already exists to capture methane and is affordable. It won’t cost companies zero dollars, which is what they want, but like Wolf said about the 5% severance tax, it’s not really a significant burden.
Hopefully this is just a bit of confusion that can be addressed by more research and education from the Wolf policy team, and we’ll hear an updated opinion from Tom in the near future.
Wolf has given every indication that his administration’s policies will be driven by data and clear thinking, and that they intend to weigh evidence and the public good more than interest group pressure in making decisions. So this position could use some more clarification, and hopefully John Micek and PennLive crew will think these are important enough topics to draw Wolf out a bit more on them.