Appalachian Basin

Et Tu, WVIA?

I braved the hail and tornado warnings last night to head out to the WVIA studios in Pittston for a taping of the station’s latest in a series of broadcasts on the Marcellus Shale. The panel consisted of a couple of anti-Marcellus folks and John Quigley, currently of the environmental group PennFuture but formerly top dog at the PA Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).  Of course, DCNR isn’t the agency in PA that regulates oil and natural gas, as former DEP secretary John Hanger explained on his blog earlier this year. But you’d never know that listening to Mr. Quigley!

With a line-up like this, you probably don’t need me to tell you how it went. But as I sat there listening, only a couple days after EPA secretary Lisa Jackson reaffirmed to a U.S. House committee that fracturing technology was and is safe, I couldn’t help but wonder why WVIA didn’t call up the folks right down the road at Wilkes Univ., who on Thursday night hosted an event where they sought to examine the question of whether PA could benefit economically from the Marcellus while still safeguarding the commonwealth’s environment. Their almuni panel consisted of Clayton Bubeck, vice president of RETTEW, Nancy Dolan, board member of  the Gas Drilling Awareness Coalition, Teri Ooms, executive director of the Institute for Public Policy and Economic Development, Steve Brokenshire, a mineral research specialist at DEP, Dr. Brian Redmond, a professor at Wilkes (his wife taught Spanish at Dallas High School, where our Chris Tucker went to school!), and state Rep. Eddie Day Pashinski of the 121st Legislative District. In other words, they had the whole shebang: industry, scientists, anti-Marcellus activists, regulators and lawmakers. Now that’s what I call a panel!

These individuals (most of ’em, anyway) presented facts about the process involved in exploring for natural gas in deep shale formations, some recent data on public opinion in the region, information how the process is regulated by DEP, and update on how existing regulations might be changed and updated in the future. They presented a broad spectrum of information, stuck to facts (again, for the most part), and gave those in attendance a wealth of information to help them come to their own conclusions about the process.

There was some good, old-fashioned debunking on display too. When GDAC’s Dolan suggested that the recycling of Marcellus wastewater could only happen “a couple of times” before that water turned into “radioactive waste,” Bubeck of RETTEW, the environmental consulting firm, was quick to shoot that nonsense down, stating that it was “absolutely not true” and then explaining to the audience what the water recycling process actually entails.  DEP’s Brokenshire then explained that solids pulled from the wastewater must meet lots of requirements before being disposed of in landfills.  Brokenshire further elaborated on this saying that the landfills are the safest places for the solid wastes, and citing new water treatment facilities that opened in the Williamsport area last week.

Teri Ooms handled the polling presentation, releasing new data indicating that only 19 percent of the state’s residents oppose the development of the Marcellus, with34 percent are neutral, and 47 percent somewhat or strongly supportive. Would you believe that 74 percent of the respondents in the 21 counties sampled had never even looked up information on the Marcellus? That’s a little bit scary after the extreme bias I witnessed last night at the WVIA taping. Read the full study here.

Much different from the Wilkes event, the theme of WVIA’s taping was an overt push for banning exploration. As Rep. Pashinski said the night before, though, the promise and potential of the Marcellus Shale is real, and having the state step in to stop a process that’s been deployed for more than 60 years in PA already does not, in any way, represent a serious option. When I stood up to discuss further the issue of recycling water, citing information I learned from Brokenshire the night before, they chose not to answer my question.

Instead, the Delaware Riverkeeper, who was WVIA’s hand-picked “question of the week” person, turned the question into “Will the gas companies get it right this time,” explicitly tying the development of natural gas to the strip mining of coal that happened 50 years ago.

The night wasn’t all bad, though. There were some great comments made out of Lycoming and Bradford counties from individuals living in Marcellus areas to try to provide a more well-rounded discussion. I applaud you for calling in and speaking your voice in a venue where there was no one else there, besides myself, to speak it for you!

My last thought on my two nights in Luzerne County is this: After the show last night, a woman from the Clean Water Coalition came up and called me a “dirty polluter” — and then presumably walked out to her fossil-fuel powered vehicle and went home to watch her fossil-fuel power television before retiring in the comfort of her fossil-fuel climate-controlled home. It was an unfortunate end to the evening, but not an altogether unsurprising one.

More than anything else, I felt bad for this woman. She genuinely believes that natural gas is a dirty fuel, and that those who seek to fight for the responsible development of a homegrown resource like this represent her enemies. But her insult didn’t elicit any anger in me — it just reinforced the urgency of the task ahead. We have the facts on our side, folks. We have the science. But unless we’re getting out there and delivering both of those things to the folks who need them, we won’t be able to move the needle in any serious way.

Anyway, as soon as the videos for both these events are available, I will be sure to make them available to you! Hope everyone has a Happy and Safe Memorial Day.


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