LOCK HAVEN - Clinton County Commissioner Adam Coleman has volunteered for a natural gas task force created by the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania.
The move is in response to an explosion of activity that has occurred in the field of natural gas exploration in the central part of the state, and the need for local government officials to educate themselves about the ramifications of that increased activity.
In recent months, many local government agencies have been struggling to gather information and develop policies in connection with the potential impact for counties who are affected by exploration and development of natural gas in Pennsylvania.
Coleman said the issues are wide and varied, and include assessments, titles and deeds, general lease issues, land use planning and impact on infrastructure, including water, county and municipal roads and bridges.
The influx of natural gas exploration and drilling currently taking place along the Commonwealth's Marcellus Shale region has raised many questions, Coleman said at Thursday's meeting of the commissioners, "and certainly there's going to be an impact on revenue and the economy... It could be staggering. I think we all are looking for more information on this so we can be aware of all the opportunities."
"And the pitfalls," Com-missioner Joel Long added.
Both men noted there could be some difficulties at state level when it comes to inspections to prevent a negative impact on the local environment.
While some of those concerns are being addressed by the Department of Environmental Protection and the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, Coleman said, others noted DEP has 30 inspectors for the wells being created across the state and has no plans to increase that work force even in light of the expected increased burden caused by the exploration explosion.
Coleman said the Penn State Cooperative Extension continues to develop an educational program for municipal officials on natural gas exploration and drilling.
The commissioners have been looking into increasing their knowledge on gas leasing in recent months, especially given the increasing number of questions they've been forced to field on the subject.
Extension officials say the impact of gas leasing could include a large number of property purchases and speculation, an uncertain impact from the millions of gallons of water needed to force gas from wells, a great deal of additional truck traffic and many other environmental concerns.
Gov. Ed Rendell said earlier this week widespread drilling for natural gas in Marcellus Shale is one of the top environmental issues facing Pennsylvania.
Rendell described the drilling as a potential "gold rush," but said it presents both tremendous opportunities and significant problems for the Commonwealth.
The governor said DEP has acted in recent months to step up inspections of drilling operations and review state regulations with industry officials.