Residents in Marcellus Shale want voice in the process7/25/2012
O?n June 28, former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the Pennsylvania Environmental Council for his contributions toward the state’s environmental preservation. It was a decision met with disappointment by many environmental groups.
No one questions the former governor’s previous work in establishing the commendable Growing Greener program, a successful venture that has preserved and cleaned up Pennsylvania land since 1999. It is Ridge’s more recent $900,000 “strategic adviser” contract with the Marcellus Shale Coalition that created the controversy.
In his award acceptance speech, Ridge said, “Some groups fear the development of the shale gas fields, or at least find a thrill in causing others to fear it.” Does this statement intend to imply that environmental groups and concerned Pennsylvania citizens are speaking out to terrorize the minds of fellow citizens just for kicks?
The real motivation of these groups and individuals is to provide awareness and education of the actual impacts of shale gas extraction. No one is looking for a thrill; what they are looking for is a voice in the Marcellus Shale dialogue that to date remains largely unheard.
A recently released report from the Penn State Center for Economic and Community Development, “Marcellus Shale: Land Ownership, Local Voice, and the Distribution of Lease and Royalty Dollars,” proves this point. This report examines land ownership in 11 counties with Marcellus development and determines that the ability to make leasing decisions that affect the community lies mainly with nonresident landowners — public and private — and a small percentage of resident landowners who own large properties.
Consequently, the majority of these county residents — small landowners and renters — have little or no voice in controlling local drilling activity through leasing decisions. Though they might benefit from increased business or jobs, they share little in royalty income.
In other words, the majority of residents living in active drilling areas bear the brunt of the impacts, yet receive minimal compensation and have no ability to control gas activity in their area.
It’s little wonder that these citizens are upset, especially now that Act 13 limits a community’s ability to control local gas development. Perhaps that’s why more than 60 local governing bodies have signed on to support a lawsuit challenging Act 13’s pre-emption of municipal zoning.
Meanwhile, these voiceless citizens in drilling-impacted areas deal with the realities of the gas industry in their own backyard — backyards apparently deemed more fit for drilling than those in the now-exempt South Newark Basin shale that underlies Montgomery and Bucks counties.
While legislators and Department of Environmental Protection officials assure the public that Act 13 provides strong regulation for Pennsylvania — a sentiment echoed in Ridge’s acceptance speech — these citizens live with everyday safety risks of heavy truck traffic, flaring gas wells, pipeline construction and compressor stations.
Unpredictable events occur, too, such as Tioga County’s 30-foot methane and water geyser last month and Bradford County’s methane migration problem that affected several water wells and had two creeks and a wetland bubbling. Financial investments are also at risk. Banks such as Wells Fargo aren’t providing many mortgages for gas-leased properties and Nationwide Insurance won’t cover damages from anything related to fracking.
Some citizens lose their homes altogether with scant compensation, such as the roughly 30 families in the Riverdale Mobile Home Park in Jersey Shore who were forced to move last June when the park was sold for future use as a water withdrawal site. Others, such as three families near Wyalusing, will leave their homes at a financial loss as terms of an arbitration settlement after a two-year ordeal of living with contaminated water.
Present and future health concerns are still unknown. At a recent presentation on shale gas extraction health impacts at Lycoming College by environmental scientist Dr. Wilma Subra, a 40-year-old local man stood up and asked where to go for help. He is unsure whether his high blood pressure and arthritis are caused by age or from working at frack jobs on well pads.
I’m sorry, but citizens voicing concerns about these real-life impacts are not out for thrills or to cause unnecessary fears. To deny a voice to those impacted is to deny reality. To really “get it right,” Pennsylvania needs to address the actual impacts that shale gas extraction brings to our state, not just look at the economic benefits that not all will share.
Citizens living in the midst of drilling activity must be given a voice in the process. They need real protection for their property and well-being. Adversely affected citizens should receive fair treatment and appropriate compensation for losses they sustain through shale gas development pursued by others. For these citizens, that would be the real thrill. ?