Lawmakers seeking public input on gas drilling

Feedback sought on impact on communities and environment as industry explores Marcellus Shale.

By Rory
Staff Writer

With questions, concerns and accusations increasing with the rise of drilling for natural gas in Pennsylvania, state legislators and officials have been on the road to hear from voters and explain what they’re doing in Harrisburg.

If you go

The informational meetings are being held today at the Benton Area High School, 400 Park St., Benton. Issues involving Luzerne County municipalities, including Fairmount and Lehman townships, will be discussed at 6 p.m., Ross Township and Columbia County north of Routes 254 and 239, at 7:15 p.m. and the county below those roads, at 8:30 p.m.

A Senate Urban Affairs and Housing Committee public hearing last week in Bradford County heard about renters being priced out of their apartments by rig workers.

Later that day at a League of Women Voters forum in Scranton, a state Department of Environmental Protection official addressed concerns about a lack of oversight.

State Sen. Lisa Baker, R-Lehman Township, was involved in a Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee hearing on drilling wastewater treatment issues on Wednesday in Harrisburg.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, joins the road warriors tonight in Benton, where the Columbia County Land Owners Coalition is hosting informational meetings. Along with Boback will be state Reps. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming and David Millard, R-Columbia, for the three meetings, which are organized geographically.

Boback is “just going to be there to let homeowners know what’s being done in Harrisburg to address their concerns,” spokeswoman Nicole Wamsley said.

Depending on the crowd, the legislators could face either support or hostility about the issue. Anti-drilling groups have coalesced in the region and have organized attempts to voice their concerns at everything from rallies to zoning board hearings.

While drilling for gas in the Marcellus Shale holds the tantalizing promise of economic benefits and jobs for decades, it also raises a variety of environmental issues, most notably the quality and availability of water.

Add to that concerns such as the practice of “forced pooling.” In theory, it’s designed to minimize surface disturbances by evenly spacing well pads over an entire drilling area and protect landowners from having their gas siphoned off without compensation.

In practice, it forces landowners into leases whether they want one or not.

Legal in New York, it’s being addressed in Harrisburg. Boback had supported a bill based on the land-conservation premise, but recently retracted it “when the questions arose … based on discussions with research staff” regarding its practical application, Wamsley said.

Copyright: Times Leader