Thursday, September 01, 2011
More than 100 residents turned out Wednesday night to express their concerns about Marcellus Shale drilling in Southwestern Pennsylvania and to urge community leaders to continue the fight in Harrisburg.
Their voices were heard by members of the Citizens Marcellus Shale Commission, a blue-ribbon panel gauging the opinions of residents in preparation of a report to be submitted next month to legislators.
Commission co-chairman Dan Surra, a former Democratic representative from Elk County, said the group -- including numerous environmental and homeowner representatives -- was assembled in response to the governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission, which was "loaded with industry representatives."
"This commission will give citizens an opportunity to add their voice and bring some necessary balance to this critical debate," he said.
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The meeting at the South Fayette Middle School auditorium was the first of five scheduled across the state. It opened with presentations from experts on water and air pollution, followed by remarks from more than two dozen residents from Allegheny, Washington, Westmoreland, Beaver and Greene counties.
If there was anyone in the audience who supported gas drilling, he or she didn't speak up.
Pam Judy of Carmichaels told the commissioners how members of her family have been affected by a drilling operation on property adjacent to their home.
"They sound as if it's a jet engine. It rattles the windows in our house," she said. "We've experienced sore throats, headaches, runny noses, muscle aches and fatigue. Our children have experienced nosebleeds. I've had dizziness, vomiting and vertigo."
"It's shocking. It's a failure of the agencies responsible for protecting public health," said Ned Mulchay, executive director of Three Rivers Waterkeeper. "It's not radiation, it's not nuclear waste, we're not going to end up with three heads, but it's something that the state has the power to regulate, and they're simply not doing it."
Mike Atherton of Greensburg decried the decreased value of homes and property near drilling sites.
"Risk alone lowers property values. An accident destroys what is left," he said. "Who would buy a home with unreliable water? Most homeowners get no profit from shale gas, yet we all bear the risks."
Deron Gabriel, a South Fayette commissioner, told how officials learned of drilling companies leasing property near the school and, after researching the matter and conducting public hearings, enacted a zoning ordinance banning drilling in residential areas or conservation districts.
Two weeks ago, they learned that the restrictions are the subject of a lawsuit filed by Range Resources, a Texas-based drilling company.
"We're in a position, as a township, of defending our ordinance," Mr. Gabriel said. "Our residents made it very clear to us. We're hoping for some help from the state because we believe local people should be able to decide."
The other four commission meetings this month will be held in Philadelphia; Williamsport, Lycoming County; Wysox, Bradford County; and Harrisburg.
EXPLORING THE IMPACT
THE MARCELLUS BOOM
Dan Majors: 412-263-1456 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Andrea Iglar contributed.