Public looks for answers in prohibiting gas well drilling

Elk County C.A.R.E.S. hosted "A Community Meeting" Friday evening at the Ridgway Area High School cafeteria for the public to discuss the ongoing concern over the Marcellus Shale drilling.Johnsonburg Area High School chemistry teacher David Keith began the meeting with a PowerPoint presentation outlining the history, outlook and risks associated with the gas well drilling.According to Keith, the first hydraulic fractured well was drilled in Pennsylvania by Range Resources in 2003.Keith noted that there are 80 companies drilling Marcellus Shale wells at this time and that the state has issued 7,120 permits.“These are places they haven't drilled,” Keith said. Keith's presentation included a portion concentrating on the risks regarding Marcellus Shale drilling.“So the question is, what kind of risks are we looking at and how big is this going to get?” Keith asked. “Right now we are seeing the tip of the iceberg-- if things pan out for the oil companies, things will get bigger.”Following Keith's presentation, projects director Ben Price from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund [CELDF] gave an hour-long presentation discussing possible solutions to prevent and/or limit the drilling.CELDF was established in 1995 in Chambersburg.“In a nutshell, our mission is to work with local municipalities and community groups, people like you from communities that have exhausted all of their options, they have talked to their local officials, to their state representatives, to the local attorney from the municipality, they have talked to the environmental groups, and what they are told is, 'we sure wish we could help you, but we can't and there is nothing you can do,'” Price said. “This is very common. What we are told is the the most you can do is rely on the laws that are on the books, you can try and regulate it through zoning in your municipality.“Does it mean you can really stop the drilling? No, it doesn't, zoning is a form of regulation, it is the most local form of regulation, and what it says is, you can't say 'no' because to regulate means to allow under certain conditions, so just to be clear when you are told this is a well-regulated industry, it means that they are allowed to do what they want to under certain rules that were written.”Price went on to discuss the negative impacts of granting drilling companies permits.“Demanding that the laws written by the industry be enforced, and even if they are, do we win? And how much do we win? We still get to drink so many thousand parts per million of toxin X, because that's been legalized, that's the legal limit that the permit allows,” Price said. “The permit is a license to do a certain legalized amount of harm, defined by the regulations. It's not a protection of your community's health, safety and welfare. It's a license for the permit holder to engage in an activitiy that is harmful and has been legalized. “We are agreeing that we are going to expose ourselves to some amount of risk so we can get what in return, in this case, is natural gas. That's the tradeoff. It's the price we have to pay for cheap energy-- exposing our kids to carcinogens, exposing our drinking water to the possibility of being destroyed forever, exposing our land values, our property values to the possibility of becoming worthless or significantly diminished in value, and worst of all, in some ways we surrender our democratic right to make governing decisions in the communities where we live. I don't think you have a fracking problem, I think you have a democracy problem.”