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Fracking Opponent Disrupts Gas Drilling Forum

Residents packed SoLeHi library for two hours of questions and answers on Pennsylvania's emerging natural gas industry

A public forum on Marcellus Shale gas drilling drew about 100 people Thursday including a fracking opponent who was almost escorted out of the room when he began challenging panelists.

“This is my fifth (forum) and they’re all the same. They keep putting out this message that everything’s fine and it’s not. It’s a mess,” said Michael Shaw, a Kutztown resident active in a group called Gastruth.org.

Shaw was a loud dissenting voice among a standing-room only crowd at

Republican hosted the event, which featured five panelists who each offered reassuring views that Pennsylvania’s rich underground energy source can be safely harvested without significant harm to the environment.

Simmons took on one of the most controversial issues about gas drilling - taxation.

“I don’t have a problem imposing a fee on the extraction,” he said. “We need to find a competitive balance where these companies pay for what they’re doing but we’re not shutting them down.”

Simmons said he would support either an impact fee “that would stay in the local community” or an extraction fee that could be used to offset Pennsylvania’s personal income tax.

The panel spent two hours answering dozens of questions on drilling safety, environmental impact and economic development.

Dan Lapato of the Pa. Department of Environmental Protection said 1,400 citations for violations and a recent $1 million fine slapped on Chesapeake Energy show the agency is serious about keeping the burgeoning gas drilling industry in check.

“We are tasked with protecting the public and the environment and we take that seriously,” he said.

But Shaw, the vocal fracking opponent, got riled when Lapato said that DEP has not found fluid from hydraulic fracturing in any bodies of water in the state.

“I just came from one (pond) they drained the water out of in Leroy Township, Bradford County,” Shaw, sounding angry, said to the panelist.

Members of Simmons’ staff tried to get Shaw to leave the room after the outburst. A police officer later arrived, apparently on standby to quell any further disruptions. There were none.

Shaw was referring to an April 21 well blowout that sent drilling wastewater spilling onto a farm field, into a small stream and Towanda Creek. News reports quoted state regulators as saying  fracking fluid swamped the well pad and overflowed.

Panelist Tom Murphy of Penn State University called the blowout a “very unusual” and “catastrophic” event, but added that liners and containment systems to catch surface spills are constantly being improved.

“This extraction process will keep getting better over time. We see new rules and regulations. We see new processes being put in place,” he added.

Ninety minutes into the forum, the audience continued to pose environmental questions. One resident asked, What are drillers and the state prepared to do in case of a cataclysmic event such as contamination of a watershed?

Gas drillers are responsible for any cleanup and restoration, Lapato said.

As Pennsylvania’s gas drilling industry evolves, the key for residents will be to assess their risk tolerance, said Anthony Bartolomeo, a member of Gov. Tom Corbett’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.

As regulations are developed, residents must “set how safe is safe and how clean is clean,” he said.

“Like oil to Texas, Marcellus shale is a tremendous economic opportunity for the Commonwealth,” said Stephanie Wissman of the Pa. Chamber of Business and Industry. “We can’t afford to mess this up.”

After the forum, Center Valley resident Mary Ann Vought said the emergence of gas drilling in Potter County, where her son lives, “has given the whole area hope economically.”

But Tara Craig of Allentown left the forum dissatisfied with what she heard.

“I think the whole truth isn’t being told. They just skimmed the surface to appease people rather than address the issues,” she said.

DEP is proposing an overhaul of the state's Oil and Gas Act to protect water in Pennsylvania.

Michael June 05, 2011 at 03:16 PM
A true forum with opposing points of view and questions asked by people in their own voices. ( Take note Justin Simmons, this is how information is fairly disseminated.) http://youtu.be/kCYUdLJSav8 "A corporate business plan is not a national energy strategy." --Dr. Anthony Ingraffea
Michael June 05, 2011 at 08:50 PM
Steve, I was raised in Pennsylvania's Woods. I love this state ( not for its corrupt politicians and some ill-informed citizens) and although I have lived in the south, west, and the northwest for short periods of time, I always come back home to PA. I am a professional photographer and instructor at a local school. I make part of my living taking beautiful pictures of Penn's Woods. I work for myself. What do you do? Are you employed by the gas companies, do you owned leased land, are you working for Justin Simmons? Let's be honest. What do you know about the history of unconventional high pressure slick water fracturing? If you watch the videos I post and do your research, you will see this is not about a few landowners. This is about the ecosystem of the entire state. No one has a right to mess with that when the harm will be irreversible. Experimentation with caustic, toxic chemicals is laboratory work. Pennsylvania's woods is NOT the gas companies' test ground. And no one has a right to fracture our state forests. That land belongs to our children and all future Pennsylvanians, right?
Steve Dunn June 06, 2011 at 01:06 AM
Michael, I wish I were employed. Sad to say I'm one of the many who have lost their job in this bad economy. I don't work for anyone and I don't own any of the land being leased. I too love Pennsylvania and my family has been here for generations. I like to explore both sides of an issue and I'm not fooled by anyone. I do my own research on subjects that interest me and draw my own conclusions. No one in their right mind wants to see our resources polluted. I for one am very worried about the economy of this state and country. If this is a safe opportunity (I preface that by saying nothing is 100 % safe) then I think we have to take advantage of it.
Michael June 06, 2011 at 06:41 PM
Steve, Sorry to hear that you haven't found work yet. When I got laid off from the publishing industry, I decided to make my own way. It is hard and incredibly time consuming but so rewarding. You may want to give it a try. Meanwhile, the toxic effects of fracking are so bad, it makes no economic sense for Pennsylvania long term. Who will want to work, live, and raise kids in a place where the quality of life is what they are experiencing in eastern Utah, western Colorado, Texas and Wyoming. With 100,00 wells, Pennsylvania will be one big industrial zone with lots of old , leaking gas wells and pipelines. These wells and pipelines require maintenance and regular attention. The wells out west are a mess for lack of it. We won't even get into the 596 chemicals injected with millions of gallons of fresh , Pennsylvania water in the fracking process; its use and disposal- which is where some of the most serious deception occurs, and the effects of the volatile organic gasses that are emitted 24/7 from the condensate tank(s) at every well site. Financially, it will be ruinous for our kids in PA. This is a a tipping point for Pennsylvania, like Fukushima was for the Japanese, only without a Tsunami.
david sweeney July 07, 2011 at 09:48 AM
Gee Michael, we were in Wyoming and there were so many jobs people were coming in from out of state to work (I believe the the unemployment is under 4%) and the dealerships couldn't keep new vehicles on the lots...We must have been in the wrong area, because everyone there was thrilled about the oil and gas development.........

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