Editorial voice from elsewhere

December 10, 2013

Wilkes-Barre Times Leader

If you drink water, read this.

If you bathe, shower, swim, fish or own land in Pennsylvania, read these few hundred words and then ask critical questions beginning with this one: Do you trust state lawmakers to adequately watch over an industry that’s swept across the commonwealth in a matter of years, sunk thousands of wells into the earth and shot chemicals deep below private lands and public forests, all in pursuit of billions of dollars in wealth?

Marcellus Shale drillers might have passed over Luzerne County a few years ago when this territory didn’t prove financially lucrative enough for the extraction of natural gas. But shale-smashing operations are near at hand, as hunters and others who amble into the wilds of Wyoming and Northern Tier counties can attest. And, besides, the proximity of the nearest natural gas wellhead doesn’t absolve you from being responsible for what happens in Penn’s Woods during your lifetime, or protect you if an accidental spill, deliberate violation or unforeseen circumstance should poison a drinking water supply.

Drilling in Pennsylvania – anywhere in Pennsylvania – has implications for all its residents. So you should be aware that recent reports suggest you are not hearing the full story about Marcellus Shale drilling, certainly not from TV commercials with happy farmers parroting the industry spin about jobs and safety.

A group of research organizations, for example, took a multi-state look at the natural gas industry’s impact on job growth and found it fell far short of claims. The Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center and the Keystone Research Center were among the study’s collaborators to release their findings this month on drilling jobs in Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia and three other states.

“Industry supporters have exaggerated the jobs impact in order to minimize or avoid altogether taxation, regulation and even careful examination of shale drilling,” said Frank Mauro, executive director of the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, a study participant.

The researchers said their study “points to the need for state and local policymakers to collaborate to enact policies that serve the public interest.”

Separately, a pair of self-described “independent” investigative journalists based in Potter County debuted a documentary earlier this year called “Triple Divide,” which contains allegations about Pennsylvania drilling activities – including a bombshell that could reverberate across the state.

A screening of the film was held this month at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, during which the audience heard:

• The natural gas industry has successfully argued to dismiss certain baseline water tests, in which people’s drinking water is analyzed for methane and other substances before the drilling of nearby gas wells, saying the results were flawed. In some cases, the industry even has rejected its own test results, say the filmmakers, who refer to the situation as the “predrill scandal.”

• If one predrill water test in the Keystone State no longer has legal merit, do any of them have value? If not, what does that mean for thousands of property owners who previously considered them Gospel? And why pay hundreds of dollars for testing that, it seems, the industry can simply argue away as irrelevant?

• Legal settlements reached with people who contend that tainted water or drilling-related activities damaged their health typically include gag orders, prohibiting them from talking about it. How can the Keystone State effectively gauge drilling’s potential health impacts, and form a response, if secrecy rules?

In light of these and other concerns about drilling – such as its social implications on communities, habitat destruction and air quality issues – shouldn’t our state lawmakers be talking about subjects beyond how much money the Marcellus Shale industry generates?

Shouldn’t someone demand Pennsylvania’s top priorities be the public good and the protection of its resources?

Shouldn’t you?



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