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January 22, 2016

Seven arrested for interrupting Gov. Wolf's Pa. Pipeline Planning Meeting

Protesters question independence of state's task force as stakeholders evaluate pipeline expansion

Seven people protesting expanded pipeline infrastructure in Pennsylvania were arrested Thursday after they interrupted a state hearing for Governor Tom Wolf's Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force.

The goal of the 48-member task force is to make recommendations that will guide the permitting process and contain the environmental impact of construction as the state projects 30,000 miles of additional pipeline in the coming decade, according to Desmog Blog.

Those arrested at the meeting were charged with disorderly conduct for breaking up a session held for public comments. The protesters argued that further expansion of fracking in Pennsylvania would raise the ecological and community health risks cited by opponents of the contentious drilling practice.

“The proposed massive and unprecedented buildout of fracked gas pipelines across the commonwealth makes us all front line communities,” said Betsy Conover, a resident of Dauphin County near the proposed Mariner East pipelines. “Every single county in the state will be impacted.”

Governor Wolf, who created the task force last May, has opposed a moratorium on drilling in Pennsylvania, where the Marcellus Shale contains as much as 13.5 million acres of territory deemed a highly productive "core area" for energy reserves. Wolf called for input from multiple state agencies, environmental groups, oil and gas companies, and the state legislature to produce a 335-page provisional report with a pipeline impact assessment supporting "responsible development" and "positive economic benefits," PennLive reports.

Among the 184 recommendations produced by the task force were increased training for state regulators, emergency responders and workers, improved communications with landowners and communities and a state-level permit coordinator.

Supporters of expanded pipeline infrastructure say Pennsylvania has more energy resources than capacity to deliver them to markets, an issue they say is responsible for declining oil prices across the region. Others, such as the Public Accountability Initiative, have questioned the independence of the task force, arguing that 92 percent of non-governmental members have ties to the oil and gas industry.

The protesters at Thursday's meeting said the task force has "consistently excluded voices" from community members.

A majority of the recommendations made by the task force will require legislative approval as Pennsylvania remains mired in a prolonged budget standoff. The final report from the Pipeline Infrastructure Task Force is expected to be delivered to Governor Wolf in early February.