Gov. Corbett's advisory commission on the Marcellus Shale natural gas boom on Friday urged Pennsylvania to become the first state to regulate gas pipelines in rural areas.
The adoption of such oversight would be an especially big step for Pennsylvania. It's now the only natural gas-producing state in the United States to impose no regulation on the pipelines that move gas from the well fields.
Earlier this year, the state Senate and House overwhelmingly passed different versions of a bill giving the Public Utility Commission the authority to oversee pipelines in populated areas.
But neither bill goes as far as the recommendations in the panel's report, which says rules should cover pipelines even in the most rural areas.
"I think Pennsylvania is a good candidate for doing that," said Deborah Goldberg, a lawyer with EarthJustice, an environmental advocacy group.
Bill Wilson, president of a group of landowners in Wyoming County that negotiates with drillers and pipeline companies, also endorsed the recommendation.
Wilson said the current system leaves rural residents unfairly at risk from pipeline operators.
"You have to put higher-grade pipe in around a prison, but you don't have to do that where my grandkids are," Wilson said. "I don't consider my grandkids to be acceptable collateral damage."
But the rural regulation proposal might prove politically and financially difficult to implement.
For decades, the national pipeline lobby has fought to ensure that federal regulations do not apply to pipes in rural areas, arguing that any risks were small and expenses potentially vast.
In Pennsylvania, the Marcellus Shale Coalition, the main trade group for Pennsylvania drillers and pipeline firms, would not comment Friday on the call for regulation in rural areas. But industry leaders have said that they do not want state rules that are more stringent than federal ones.
Moreover, while the federal government provides states with funds to pay for pipeline safety checks, Pennsylvania might have to bear the cost of rural regulation by itself.
State Rep. Matt Baker (R., Bradford-Tioga), sponsor of the House version of the pipeline bill, said he did not see a pressing need to extend regulation into rural areas.
"None of us have heard of any concern or problem," he said. "We might get to that point, but right now neither the federal government or the PUC have expressed any need for it."