HARRISBURG, Pennsylvania,  (ENS) – Higher energy prices and improving technology are making it easier and more attractive for drilling operators to explore and extract natural gas in Pennsylvania, but they must obey the state’s environmental laws and regulations the state’s top environmental official told oil and gas executives on Friday.

Speaking at a first-of-its-kind summit attended by 150 representatives of the oil and gas industry, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Kathleen McGinty said that taking advantage of the state’s energy resources is important to its economy and to the nation’s interests, but doing so must be balanced against the need to protect Pennsylvania’s natural resources.

“The economics of the energy industry are driving an incredible level of interest in Pennsylvania’s natural resources,” said McGinty. “In three of the last four years, we’ve set a new record in terms of the number of permits issued to drill here, and this year could bring another record.”

“This activity can be a tremendous economic boon for our state’s citizens and industries, especially at a time when natural gas prices are at record highs. However, developing our energy resources cannot come at the expense of our environmental resources – our water, our land and our ecosystems,” she said.

The meeting was held to ensure the owners and operators of drilling operations have a clear understanding of Pennsylvania’s laws and regulations, whether they are from the state or from elsewhere.

“These rules are in place to protect our natural treasures and we will not compromise on them,” said McGinty.

the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the Susquehanna and Delaware river basin commissions, and the state’s county conservation districts.

Pennsylvania’s independent oil and gas companies operate in 31 of the state’s 67 counties. Most of the crude oil is produced in the counties of McKean, Warren, Forest and Venango, although production also occurs in the counties between Butler and Greene. Natural gas is produced in all 31 counties. In 2006, a record 4,931 oil and gas wells were drilled in Pennsylvania.

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