Appalachian Basin

Citizen’s Commission Stacks the Deck to Scam Pennsylvania Residents

Earlier this summer, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett (R) received a final report from the Governor’s Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission.  The report contained recommendations to “develop a comprehensive strategic proposal for the responsible and environmentally sound development of the Marcellus Shale”.  It featured input from 30 members including representatives from state and local governments, the natural gas industry and environmental groups. The final report was passed unanimously however anti-natural gas development interests were not satisfied with its findings and decided to form their own group called The Marcellus Shale Citizens Advisory Commission. More after the jump.

The goal of the citizen’s “commission” is to collect and report on information they believe the governor’s commission failed to examine. This so-called “citizen’s commission” is currently traveling Pennsylvania and if you go to a meeting you will see many of the same attendees telling the same stories at hearing after hearing.

This “commission”, despite never being commissioned, is composed of a group of self-appointed members.  We have included the full membership below and you can find their “official” biographies here.  Be sure to take notice of group affiliation, expertise, and how many landowner coalitions or citizens not affiliated with an activist group have been appointed for the Commission’s deliberation.  The answer to the last statement is zero.

Citizens Commission at work

  • Co-chairs: Former Representatives Dan Surra and Carole Rubely
  • Roy Newsome, Housing Alliance of PA
  • Olivia Thorne, PA League of Women Voters
  • Pete Rathmell, Western Clinton Sportsmen’s Association
  • Thomas Au, Conversation Chair of the Sierra Club
  • John Trallo, Residents United for Pennsylvania–Responsible Drilling Alliance–Damascus Citizens for Safe Energy
  • Sharon Sorbel, AFSCME–Clear Coalition
  • Duke Barret, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition
  • Barb Jarmaska, Responsible Drilling Alliance
  • Anne Alford, Editor, Williamsport Guardian–Responsible Drilling Alliance
  • Rev. Ricky Phillips, ELCA Lutheran Church Lewisburg

This unofficial “Commission” is being sponsored by PennEnviroment whose website reads “keep Pennsylvania safe from drilling”. If the name sounds familiar that’s because it is.  PennEnvironment is the same group that published pictures of flooded drill sites in Pennsylvania during the recent flooding brought from the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee.  The only problem, the pictures were from Pakistan (click here).

In fact, Penn Environment has a form letter on their website where one can submit a “Marcellus Shale story” for the Citizen’s Commission’s consideration.  What’s telling is the preface to this feature. It reads (emphasis added):

Earlier this summer, Gov. Corbett’s industry-stacked Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission released their report of recommendations for dealing with gas drilling in Pennsylvania. With more than a third of the Commission members having ties to the drilling industry, it’s unsurprising that their final report included major giveaways and tradeoffs to industry.

That’s one way to look at the situation.  Another is that two-thirds of the official Commission, a clear majority, has no ties to the natural gas industry.  Thus if all the members representing industry coalesced around a proposal they would still require significant outside support for it to be adopted.  Also as we noted earlier the final report by the official Commission was passed unanimously.

Now that you have some background let’s discuss the finer points of the recent citizens advisory “commission” hearings.

The “commission” held hearings last week where attendees heard “expert testimony” by four witnesses followed by a public comment period.  These proceedings were reported by the Williamsport Sun.  They were also covered in a slightly more objective manner by PA Live and the Wayne Independent.  All of these reports failed to dig deeper than what is apparent at the surface.

As evident from the videos below the public comment period contained many anecdotal complaints from individuals who vehemently oppose natural gas development. Keep in mind these claims don’t have to be proven or based in fact.  You will find this out for yourself by reading the below debunking of a select group of expert witnesses.

Bob Myers – Director of Environmental Studies at Lock Haven

Interestingly enough, Dr. Myers, the Director of Environmental Studies at Lock Haven University, doesn’t appear to even hold a scientific degree.  Here is a description of Dr. Myers from Lock Haven’s website.

Dr. Robert Myers, Professor of English, Director of Environmental Studies Ph.D. in English (Penn State University)

Teaching Responsibilities: Introduction to Environmental Studies (ENVT101); upper-level English topics and 328 courses (e.g. ENGL402/328: Wilderness in American Literature)

Other Information: Research interests include ecocriticism, especially in connection with American literature.

We would provide his Curriculum Vitae but this page of Lock Haven University’s website is conveniently no longer working.  Despite this we found that Dr. Myers holds a degree in English, is a professor of the English Department, and serves as interim chair of the Art Department at the University. In fact, the only scientific inquiry or education Dr. Myers appears to be involved in is teaching an Introduction to Environmental Studies course and publishing the Hemlock, an online newspaper focusing on the environment.  While anyone can publish a newspaper I am fairly certain that students attending Lock Haven would prefer that the professors teaching them a particular subject (environmental studies) are well qualified and credentialed in that area, perhaps even holding a degree in that field of study.  Here it appears this is not the case.  Below find video of Dr. Myers statements last week.

At one point Dr. Myers lists violations that natural gas companies have accrued. Here is where he made a rather large mistake—lack of fact checking, something English professors across the academic community usually stress. You see, he mentions a certain “frack fluid” spill where 4,000 gallons of fluid allegedly contaminated two private water wells in Penn Township. What he likely didn’t expect was for one of those well owners to be in the audience.  Low and behold, he was referring to an incident that occurred involving the well of EID- Northeast Marcellus’s own, Nicole Jacobs.  In fact, Dr. Myers cited the very incident that prompted Nicole to become more involved in the education of others about natural gas development.

This does beg the question of what happened at Nicole’s well in November 2010.  At a site upstream from Nicole’s home, a produced fluid container experienced a leak that released somewhere around 2,000 gallons of brine—salt and water—into Sugar Run stream as well as the two wells.

There was no actual contamination that occurred—despite reports in the media and a little bit of hysteria on the part of Nicole.  The chloride level was elevated for a short amount of time but all water tests conducted have shown no issues with high salt content. Needless to say Nicole, a Lock Haven University graduate, was disappointed that a professor from her alma mater would claim to be an expert and then use false information to further a cause in a public venue as a representative of  the University.

Duke Barret, Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition & member of the commission.

Duke Barret is next up on our list of debunking. Let’s start with what makes him an expert.  As best as we can tell there is nothing that qualifies him as such.  Here is his biography as pulled from the “commission’s” website (emphasis added).

Duke Barrett serves as an Executive Committee Member – Web Development – for the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition of Luzerne County. He became involved with GDAC in the Spring of 2010 upon learning of a planned compressor station in his home town of Dallas, PA near the Dallas Schools complex. Mr. Barrett has created the groups website (, brochures, posters and other materials. In September 2010, he spoke in Harrisburg with Activist Gene Stilp to a group of concerned citizens on the issues of forced pooling and the elimination of local zoning, which was broadcast live on PNC TV. It was announced at this press conference that the Pennsylvania Department of Homeland Security had been monitoring citizens concerned about the negative industrial effects of gas drilling. Professionally, Mr. Barrett is the founder of and, for the last 20 years, the VP of Special Projects for, a company that designs & manufactures full-size golf simulators.

Sounds like if you are looking for an expert web developer or golf simulator Duke is your man.  Highly scientific matters not so much.  This was noticeable in his first sentence where he begins with a reference to a golden calf mirage because he doesn’t believe that the gas industry is interested in domestic energy or jobs.  This is interesting as Pennsylvania is now a net exporter of natural gas thanks to the Marcellus Shale whose presence is driving economic growth, helping communities thrive and is keeping unemployment low in counties along the northern tier. One good example is Bradford County’s extremely low 6% unemployment rate which is in part a result of natural gas production.

There were a few natural gas supporters present at the citizens “commission” hearings although most steered clear as they knew the proceedings would be extremely biased.  Here are videos from natural gas supporters duped into thinking this was an actual commission. Pay attention to how successful these local entrepreneurs are at employing local people and contributing to Pennsylvania’s growing economy.

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Everything else aside—this citizens “commission” has no legislative mandate, commission or authority to hold these hearings.  That being said, if they were a fair enterprise no one would likely question their activities.  The problem is this group has delegitimized itself from the beginning in a number of ways. These include being funded by organizations whose only goal is to block natural gas production and by putting forward “experts” who are anything but.  All the while attempting to maintain the illusion of being unbiased and representing the interests of all citizens.  Turns out nothing could be farther from the truth.



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