Some urge suspension at forum on drilling

U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak holds a meeting at Misericordia University.

By Sherry
Staff Writer

DALLAS TWP. – Property owners concerned about the effects of Marcellus Shale drilling on water reservoirs made their views clearly known Saturday afternoon during a packed town hall meeting at Misericordia University’s library.

They wanted a moratorium enacted immediately on all gas drilling throughout the state until more is known on how to safely drill natural gas wells without using dangerous chemicals in the hydrofracturing process. The process uses between 1 million to 1.5 million of gallons of water per well laced with chemicals and dirt under high pressure to force the ground open to release natural gas, geologist Patrick Considine said.

Considine and Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Joe Sestak, whose campaign organized the town hall forum, said that during President George W. Bush’s administration, requirements on oil and gas companies were dramatically lifted. Considine, president of Considine Associates and forum panel member, explained that federal and state officials are not entitled to know what mixtures of chemicals each gas drilling company uses because it is considered a trade secret formula.

He warned that the federal and state governments need more officials to oversee the drilling processes, so the companies are not tempted to cut corners when disposing of the water after the fracking.

“Oil and gas companies need to be held to the same standards as other companies. We don’t need more regulations; we need to find ways to enforce the regulations we have,” Considine said.

People wanting the moratorium drowned out the drilling supporters, including business owner, economist and farmer Joe Grace of Morris in Lycoming County, who sees this industry being one of the biggest Pennsylvania has ever experienced by bringing 88,000 jobs to the state just this year and generating millions in revenue.

Worried about the environment and safety of area water systems, local podiatrist Dr. Thomas Jiunta adamantly disagreed with Grace, pointing to the recent gas well drilling incident in Clearfield County and a gas pipeline accident that killed one worker in Texas.

“This is not a safe activity as we know how to do it right now. We need to stop it first. We are putting the cart before the horse when you are talking about economic boom. You can’t drink gas,” said Jiunta of Dallas, a Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition founding member.

Jiunta added more focus should be put jobs that will support and grow green and renewable energy sources.

Sestak told people he sees gas drilling as an economic boon to the state, yet it needs to be done in a responsible way.

“I think this would be a good way to yes, exploit our resources, but not our communities. Business has to pause. Harrisburg has to stop until we get it right,” Sestak said, adding that he supports enacting a 5 percent severance tax on the drilling companies. He said is in favor of a moratorium

No representatives from the campaign of Sestak’s opponent, former U.S. rep. Pat Toomey, attended the forum.

A statement from the Republican candidate’s campaign staff said Sestak’s plan for taxing the drilling will backfire by pushing those companies to focus on other states.

“Marcellus Shale has the potential to provide Pennsylvania with over 200,000 new jobs and millions of dollars in added revenue, but Joe Sestak’s plan to tax natural gas extraction will chase these jobs out of Pennsylvania. A recent study warned that a tax on Marcellus natural gas output would very likely divert investment to other states like Colorado and Texas. This is further proof that Joe Sestak’s ‘more government, less jobs’ approach is bad for Pennsylvania,” Toomey’s Deputy Communications Director Kristin Anderson said.

State Rep. Karen Boback, R-Harveys Lake, did not attend the forum, but issued a statement Friday stating she was working to develop legislation to protect drinking water from gas drilling practices. Knowing that will take time to become law, she is urging Gov. Ed Rendell to issue an executive order implementing four additional rules before permits can be issued.

Her opponent, Richard Shermanski, a Democrat, attended the meeting, telling people he would not support any form of drilling if he knows it will damage water reservoirs.

Many attending the forum reside in Luzerne County, but some people, including Leslie Avakian of Greenfield Township in northern Lackawanna County, drove an hour to voice their views.

She believes the state’s Department of Environmental Protection needs to be spilt up into two separate agencies because DEP currently issues the permits and regulates the gas companies.

Lynn Hesscease of Dallas told her story of how she became deathly sick after three years of oil leaking in her cellar from a rusted pipe.

She explained how she can’t use any type of products made from petroleum – polyester clothing, petroleum jelly or use plastic cups.

“We have to be very careful it is not near our drinking water and we are not exposed to the chemicals or fumes because if we are, people will get sick,” Hesscease said.

Sherry Long, a Times Leader staff writer, may be reached at 829-7159.

Copyright: Times Leader