July 30, 2010 4 Comments
Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato says he’d pressure natural gas drilling companies to hire Pennsylvania residents by threatening to withhold state drilling permits.
Both Onorato and Republican Tom Corbett say they want more Pennsylvanians employed at natural gas drilling sites. Right now, a majority of well workers come from out of state. Both candidates promise to commit to training commonwealth residents to do the complicated jobs, but Onorato says he’d go a step further.
Onorato says he’d be justified to use permits as leverage, arguing, “I think all governors apply pressure on every industry. The whole idea of being governor is you try to bring jobs and improve the economy of your state. We have a golden opportunity here, with the Marcellus Shale find. But we get one chance to get it right.”
The problem is, Onorato’s idea isn’t legal. “It’s not what we do,” says Governor Rendell. “And you might be able to do that, but you’d probably have to change some regulations or get some legislation.” Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Hanger, who oversees well permitting, agrees. “That’s not one of the grounds for rejecting a permit in the Oil and Gas Act,” he explains, adding he worries a measure mandating companies hire Pennsylvanians would run afoul of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause.
Still, Hanger applauds Onorato’s mindset. “I think it’s more than reasonable for Pennsylvania public officials to turn up the heat on getting Pennsylvanians hired,” he says, pointing out companies have been drilling in the Marcellus formation since 2005. “We want Pennsylvanians to be hired. I think everyone has seen the proliferation of Texas, Wyoming and other out of state plates on trucks and all sorts of vehicles around Marcellus operations.”
What does Corbett think about Onorato’s proposal? “That’s quite a threat that he has out there. My idea is, we get the people trained, they’re going to hire our people. And that solves the problem.” Would Corbett use permits as leverage, I asked during a campaign appearance. “I don’t threaten people,” he said.