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Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Hearing draws protest, support

By Christie Campbell Staff writer chriscam@observer-reporter.com

This article has been read 1211 times.

As members of the U.S. Department of Energy's natural gas subcommittee filed onto the Olin Fine Arts Center's stage Monday night, protesters began chanting "six out of seven belong to the drillers."

Their words reflected their belief that panel members have conflicts of interest or financial connections to the natural gas industry.

John Deutch, the panel's chairman, said the task of the subcommittee is to provide advice to the Secretary of Energy and other governmental officials on what steps are necessary to improve gas extraction.

"It's important that it be done properly, done safely, in a way that doesn't pose risks to the environment," he said to applause from the crowd of nearly 400 supporters and opponents.

But Josh Fox, director of the anti-gas film "Gasland," said Deutch's comments proved that the hearing was "a sham."

"You are using this forum to justify your conclusion," he said.

Fox was soon shouted down by gas industry supporters when he ran out of time, but protesters stood up and applauded him as he returned to his seat.

Prior to the start of the hearing - believing they had been shut out of the meeting - protesters began speaking to the media outside the fine arts building.

"This commission should go home. (Go) back to Washington and tell Obama and Congress there's a rebellion brewing here," said Mel Packer, with marcellusprotest.org.

Although earlier releases stated people who wished to speak should register beginning at 6:30 p.m., some had signed in as early as 4:30 p.m.

Tom Reynolds, DOE's deputy director of public affairs, said doors opened then to accommodate the number of people who had arrived earlier.

More than 90 people registered to speak.

Energy in Depth, an oil and gas organization, had been criticized for offering to provide transportation to the hearing, but Reynolds said he knew of no buses that brought people to the hearing.

Gilbert Balizan, an employee with RNI Trucking near DuBois, said he had traveled to the hearing of his own free will and on his own dime.

Formerly of Wyoming, Balizan was delivering a frack tank to a Pennsylvania gas well site when he realized the job potential and asked for a job. The company now employs 92 people, 90 of them from Pennsylvania with an annual payroll of $3.2 million.

Several people told the 5-member panel about being able to return to their home state of Pennsylvania thanks to jobs provided by the natural gas industry.

"Why should Americans fight overseas to guard our oil when a cleaner resource is available here?" asked Aaron Price, director of the film "Gas Odyssey."

Many said they were not opposed to gas drilling but the hydraulic fracturing method which uses high volumes of water, sand and chemicals to force natural gas from the shale.

Calling for a statewide health assessment, Dana Donley said the state first needs to monitor risks of living and working near drilling or compressing sites.

"No one begrudges anyone a job but why do you begrudge me my health?" the breast cancer survivor asked.

Reynolds said written comments will be given the same attention as those speaking Monday. Written comments can be emailed to shalegas@hq.doe.gov or mailed to Renee Stone, U.S. Dept. of Energy, 1000 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, DC 20585. 

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