When horizontal drilling and fracturing techniques opened up the vast natural gas resources under Pennsylvania, what followed for a handful of years was an explosion of activity somewhat reminiscent of the California Gold Rush.
Unfortunately, the activity required the injection of chemical-laced fluids into a shale formation miles beneath the surface and then production of millions of gallons of brine and disgorged chemicals that had to be dealt with in an environmentally safe manner, but little experience in the end game.
Combined with an industry resistant to revealing just what exactly was in the cocktail it was using to enhance production, Marcellus Shale exploration suffered - and still suffers to some extent - from the effects of public health concerns.
Thoughout that time politicians friendly to the industry - among them our governor - attempted to assure the public that all was well, despite nagging reports of places where all was not well.
There hadn't been a long-range health study from which to draw conclusions, and when the public hears anecdotal evidence like instances of natural gas showing up in drinking water, the conclusions, correct or not, are mostly negative.
Last year, the General Assembly quietly eliminated $2 million of funding from the state's new impact fee that would have established a statewide health registry to track medical problems related to gas drilling, a move that public health experts criticized.
Now, Sen. Joe Scarnati, R-Jefferson, has proposed creation of an advisory panel to examine possible health issues related to the process. The governor's office says the chief executive's crew will "work with" Scarnati to make sure the legislation is "done right." Outright opposition to something that appears to look after public health would be like saying the governor is opposed to motherhood. We're just concerned about the governor's definition of "done right," given the industry's share of his campaign benefaction.
Scarnati said having a well-rounded state panel "makes a lot of sense" for both the public and the industry.
Our definition of "done right" is an advisory panel that is non-partisan, heavily based in science, whose conclusions are not skewed by public relations for either side of the environmental and health debate.