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Opinion- A Marcellus Shale Call To Action
By George Kutskel, President, Allegheny Mountain Chapter Trout Unlimited

If you have followed the Commonwealth's budget fiasco, you know our legislature did very little to protect our state forests or make sure the citizens of Pennsylvania were going to receive a fair value for the gas that lies beneath the forests. And DEP has taken away many of the "other" eyes that watched out for our environment.

As Trout Unlimited members, we need to make our voices heard. TU cannot and will not endorse candidates or lobby. We are a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and, as such, we can't do that.

But that doesn't mean you don't have a voice. TU is not against the responsible development of our natural gas resource, but we must still protect our environment. We cannot go back to what happened when everyone turned a blind eye to the coal industry and we were left with a huge legacy to clean up. Already horror stories are surfacing of issues of streams being destroyed and damaged.

So what can you as a TU member do? Contact your state representatives and senators and let them know you favor a severance tax.

Costs of environmental cleanups are going to continue to mount and Growing Greener is fading away. Money that was in the Oil and Gas Fund was used to balance the budget, so now DCNR will have little or no money to maintain OUR state forests. Part of the severance tax should go to the Fish & Boat and Game commissions, as many of our citizens use the lakes and forests, even though they neither fish nor hunt. We have a huge backlog in maintenance on many of the lakes that are owned by both commissions.

The gas companies will not move away. The Marcellus formation has long been looked at by the industry and until now it was not feasible to tap into it. Almost every state has a severance tax to help offset the increased cost on local governments. Another reason taxing the industry will not cause them to leave is that Pennsylvania is located where the bulk of the gas drilled elsewhere is shipped to now. It's like the real estate axiom, "Location, Location, Location."

Another issue that has not been dealt with in any way to protect the environment is what to do with the wastewater. I have attended several meetings with the gas industry. They say of the 3 million gallons used to frac a well, only 1 million comes back, so it’s not a big problem. But what about the cumulative effect? Today only a handful of wells is being drilled. If what DEP and the industry say is true, just wait. They expect over 8,000 wells will be drilled. That’s 8 trillion gallons of polluted water produced per year. Where are we going to put it? If we do what we have done with shallow gas wells, we'll need to go buy saltwater rods, since no freshwater fish will be found in our waters.

One of the other big half-truths is the subject of jobs. While it is true that many jobs will be created, most are being filled by out-of-state workers who know how to work in the deep gas fields. I know that around my home I see many pickup trucks with Texas plates on them.

The above outlines what you can say to your state representative and senator in supporting our right to clean water and a healthy environment. You can also be active in spotting areas of concern. State Council is working on providing training and equipment to help chapters.

Water withdrawals are another area of concern. In the Susquehanna River watershed, withdrawals are regulated by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission. Unfortunately, when you cross the divide into the Ohio River drainage, no such commission exists. Water withdrawalsthere are controlled by DEP, and rules can and do vary from drainage to drainage.

The industry has been asked not to withdraw from headwater streams. Most of these companies are subcontracting the work, so the word doesn't always get down to that level. Act if you feel a company is withdrawing water from a small headwater stream. Call the regional law enforcement office of the Fish & Boat Commission or, if it involves a fish kill, call the county control at 911. To report a disturbance or pollution to DEP call 1-800-541-2050. Perhaps have a fly shop in your area print and distribute phone numbers. Jim's Sport Center in Clearfield has cards to carry with the numbers for the Wood Duck and Allegheny Mountain chapters. Even with any training or classes you may attend, never trespass on an active drill site. There are many hazards aside from the heavy equipment that make it too risky to do; besides, it's illegal.

This is a "Call to Action" and we all need to do our part. At a recent meeting, a person asked what we were going to do about a water withdrawal he thought was wrong. We asked if he contacted DEP and he said they should already know. If there ever was a time to get involved, it is now. Don’t assume someone else is going to do it. A quote I like to use is: "The next time you say someone should do something, remember you are someone."

George Kutskel
is PA Council of Trout Unlimited Treasurer and President of the Allegheny Mountain Chapter Trout Unlimited.

11/30/2009

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