Natural Gas 'Pooling' Law

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"Debate on a pooling law has the potential to become heated. . ."

Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell is insisting on certain environmental protections and landowner compensation requirements before he signing any bill that forces Pennsylvania landowners to sell their belowground natural gas rights to a drilling company.

Rendell's top aides said this week that discussions on a measure being sought by the booming natural gas industry are in the early stages, though the pace of talks is expected to pick up in the coming weeks before the legislature returns to Harrisburg in September.

The so-called pooling law is a top priority for the gas industry, which is pouring billions of dollars into the Marcellus Shale—a massive rock formation underlying New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia—in a modern-day gas rush.

The process used to harvest much of that gas—hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking"—has invited scrutiny after investigations of its use elsewhere to determine whether it has contaminated residential drinking water.

No pooling bill has been introduced in the legislature yet, though a couple bills are being drafted and such laws are common in other states. Pennsylvania even has a pooling law, though it is unused, outdated and applies to a different gas formation below the Marcellus Shale.

Still, debate on a pooling law has the potential to become heated, with proponents saying it benefits the public good and opponents saying it is tantamount to government taking away property rights to benefit private companies.

Rendell's environmental protection secretary, John Hanger, said any bill the governor signs must contain explicit requirements for distance between well sites and promise "full, fair" compensation to the anyone whose gas was forced into a pool with other neighboring landowners who already sold their rights voluntarily.

"Those are the two absolute requirements for the administration to be supportive," Hanger said Tuesday.

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