Pro-drilling group welcomes gas companies

By Elizabeth Skrapits (Staff Writer)
Published: September 27, 2010

Yellow signs welcoming Encana Oil & Gas USA Inc., the first natural gas company to start drilling in Luzerne County, are starting to pop up around the Back Mountain.

They’re the handiwork of a newly formed pro-gas group, Citizens for Cleaner Energy, which consists of people who have leased their land – or who want to – and who feel it’s time to speak out in favor of what they believe will be the region’s most important resource.

Unlike natural gas drilling opponents, who have been highly visible and vocal, natural gas drilling proponents have been largely silent.

“I understand other people see this differently, and that’s fine, that’s the American process,” Citizens for Cleaner Energy President Gary Ide said. “But if we sit back and say nothing, I think everyone assumes we have nothing to say, and we do.”

The signs are symbolic, according to Ide: they are meant to welcome Encana specifically, because many of the group’s members have leases with the company and they have heard good things about it, but they’re also meant to welcome responsible natural gas exploration in general, which is one of the group’s goals. The others are to protect personal property rights and educate people about natural gas and the drilling process.

In addition to Ide, the group’s organizers are Russ and Mary Lansberry, Larry Lansberry and Gene Janiczek, whose properties in Lehman Township were to be the site of a vertical natural gas well until Encana withdrew its application to drill.

At later meetings the group decided on a name and appointed officers: Ide as president, Mary Lansberry as vice president, Barbara Mikielski as secretary and Janet McCarroll as treasurer.

But the group’s first meeting on Aug. 13 in the Lehman Township fire hall was to determine if others had similar concerns, according to Ide.

They did: “It was clear that all were frustrated about how they were being portrayed by those who oppose gas exploration,” he said.

However, Ide said the group was not formed to counter anti-drilling groups such as the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition. Members of Citizens for Cleaner Energy are also sensitive to environmental issues, he said.

“People have a reason to be concerned. This is not oxygen we’re trying to find, it is a combustible substance and it is potentially dangerous,” Ide said. “That’s why many people who have signed (leases) signed with Encana – there seems to be some real thought about how they are going to drill and produce. We think there’s a responsible way of doing this and a safe way of doing this.”

Members of Citizens for Cleaner Energy want people to know a lot of thought goes into making the decision to lease, Ide said.

“Of course economic reasons are why we’re all doing this,” he said. “But I think the considerations of all the things you might think we would worry about are there.”

Members also want to help people learn about all the components of natural gas drilling – the main problem he sees is that people are not familiar with the entire process.

“My biggest beef is probably the people who are just flat-out opposed because something might go wrong, and in the case of Dimock, did go wrong,” Ide said, referring to the Susquehanna County township where some residents are experiencing water well contamination. “I think it’s OK to be concerned and make sure they’re doing the best job possible. I don’t think it’s OK to frighten needlessly.”

Things can go wrong, he acknowledges. But, he noted, “The opportunity for economic growth for the entire area is just a little more powerful than the potential for these huge catastrophic environmental messes.”

Much needs to be proven to an unsure public, Ide said.

“I want to hopefully engage people who think they have nothing, that they have something to gain,” he said. “It’s not just good for a handful of people. … I think we’re all going to benefit.”

Some people think just because they don’t have land they won’t get anything, but that’s not true, Ide said.

“I don’t think there’s a business that could be brought in that can stimulate the economy more than this can. I can say that, but I think in time that will be proved.”

For the past six weeks Ide has been talking to as many people as possible, to learn what they had to say, find out what they were frustrated about, make sure everyone was on the same page.

So far Citizens for Cleaner Energy has about 120 members, Ide said. There are no dues or membership fees, but people do make voluntary contributions to cover costs.

Lehman Township resident Carl Kern, who does trucking for natural gas companies, was the group’s first speaker. His trucks are leased to Mountain Energy, which provides water for Chesapeake Appalachia LLC.

Ide said Kern explained how stringent the rules are for collecting and transporting water, and he made an impact on the group “by saying these are not fly-by-night outfits.”

“Most of the companies are good companies. They’re honestly trying to do things the right way,” he said.

Kern said he talked about what he is seeing in the field and how the natural gas industry is producing jobs.

He said he is just as concerned as anyone else that the gas companies do things right, but said people need to give the state some credit for enforcing regulations.

“I understand where some of these people are coming from, but everybody has to sit down and weigh it all out. I think in the long run, the pluses are going to outweigh the negatives,” Kern said.

He supports Citizens for Cleaner Energy and believes more people will join the group.

“I’m right with them. I’m going to fight as hard as I can to make this work,” Kern said.

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