Gov. Tom Wolf is creating a task force to set policy to guide development of a network of natural gas pipelines and looking for volunteers to be part of it.
It's not unusual for governors to create task forces. But what's unusual about the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force is Wolf's open invitation to the public to apply for membership on it. Those interested can submit applications with a letter of interest and resume to the task force by June 12.
John Quigley, the acting secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection, chairs the task force, which will focus on the next phase in the development of the Marcellus Shale gas fields. Quigley faces a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday.
"Over the next decade, we could see the construction of as many as 25,000 miles of gathering lines," Quigley said. "These are lines that connect the wells to the processing stations. We can also expect another 4,000 to 5,000 miles of midstream and transmission pipelines in Pennsylvania."
The governor wants task force participants from a wide range of backgrounds including, of course, the gas and pipeline industries, but also consumers of natural gas, local government officials, environmentalists, experts in agriculture, economic development and emergency preparedness and those with an awareness of historical, cultural and Native American tribal issues relating to potential pipeline routes.
The members will be chosen based on their knowledge and experience. Also, they will be required to pay their own expenses, including travel.
The task force is charged with offering guidelines for siting pipelines that minimize impacts on nearby communities and the environment, making the permitting and construction process more efficient and setting maintenance standards to ensure pipeline safety.
Pennsylvania lacks authority to regulate the siting of pipelines, so obtaining voluntary compliance is one of the goals.
Several environmental groups criticized the pipeline task force, saying the focus should be on promoting sustainable energy sources instead.
"Pipelines result in the taking of public and private lands, cut through recreation areas and hunting grounds, the pollution of water and air, the destruction of forests, wetlands and habitats..." said Maya van Rossum, who leads the Delaware Riverkeeper Network.
She said there's no safe way to build a pipeline.
Thus, Wolf is drawing criticism on this flank from environmentalists as he engages in a verbal battle with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry and the gas industry over his proposed state severance tax on natural gas production.
The pipeline issue factors in the severance tax debate. Business leaders say it's premature to enact a severance tax without the infrastructure in place to carry Pennsylvania gas to markets.