Appalachian Basin

Natural Gas Celeb Reality Tour: They Came, They Saw, They Misrepresented

The celebrity tour of Dimock has been in and out of the news for the past few weeks. But, with all these natural gas impacts the celebs reported seeing, what about the many things that never even got a mention?

It’s been a couple of weeks now since some well known celebrities and their entourage  dropped into Susquehanna County for a tour of natural gas impacts on the area. We were honestly going to let the memory of the tour dwindle down and go the way of Promised Land, but then the Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter decided to use the words of Yoko and her attempt to give credibility to activists like Vera Scroggins and Craig Stevens, as “proof” the process of developing natural resources in Susquehanna County is devastating the area. One trip talking with a small handful of people is a far cry from the overall picture of what natural gas is and isn’t doing to the county or the region as a whole, so let’s talk about what the group did and didn’t get to see while they were here.

Yoko’s Sierra Club Letter

In Yoko’s letter to Sierra Club members she discusses meeting people who’s “health, homes, and lives have been forever changed because of fracking,” but she was only referring to two families and a couple of activists from the area and one Ferrari driving woman from Bucks County. It was a bit surprising she even listed, or the Sierra Club allowed, one of those activists to be named after the spectacle she made of herself during the tour. Watch for yourself.

Further, that’s not even one percent of the population. Let’s take a moment to view how the other 99 plus percent of the county is being impacted by the natural gas development around them.

Susquehanna County Getting Much Needed Hospital

We often discuss the jobs that have come to Susquehanna County, such as those provided by local businessman Adam Diaz, and the royalty monies that are helping to put money back into the local economy quite often, but what about the other benefits seen locally?

It is no secret the county has been in desperate need of a new hospital for decades, long before Marcellus Shale or natural gas became household terms discussed around the dinner table. It’s also not a secret the county had been trying for years to get the funds needed to build one with little to no success. Yoko discusses health as an important factor, but what is more important to a region than the means to receive adequate health care?

It’s something many of us take for granted with the Geisinger’s, Susquehanna’s, Guthrie’s and other excellent health systems in the area and doesn’t even enter the radar of celebrities who have access to the very best health care money can buy. Yoko herself can surely attest to this given her very public hospital stays during her pregnancies in the 1960s and 1970s, and her seemingly great health for an 80 year old woman.  Studies time and again show access to adequate health care is a key factor in improving the health of a community; the most important one, in fact, which is why health is improving in the Barnett Shale region where there is a longer track record.

Sarandon Says “Let Them Eat Cake”

It’s possible these celebrities just don’t see the value of health care for a region.  Normally, I wouldn’t make such a statement, but Susan Sarandon who was also on the tour, spent her time in 2008 protesting needed extensions to St. Vincent’s hospital a few blocks from her home. Why on earth would she do that? We’ll let her explain in her own words.

“Improving the hospital is a great idea. However, this can be accomplished without compromising the neighbourhood.” Susan Sarandon, July 16, 2008

“Although many testifying at the hearing had expressed gratitude for the medical care they’d received at St. Vincent’s, Ms. Sarandon said at the microphone that she goes to the hospital ‘as a last resort,’ adding that ‘I would not want to bring my children there.’ She urged the commissioners ‘to slow down here and look at what the alternatives are.'” Susan Sarandon, July 15, 2008

Compromising the neighborhood? This statements makes clear the perceptions of a NIMBY approach, in this case that aesthetics trump  health care. Ordinary folks, whether they live in Manhattan or Montrose, don’t have those options.  Moreover, hospitals do not just pick locations willy nilly to create the best scenery for Sarandon and her husband to view; they do studies and determine what services are required and where their patients reside.

That’s all well and good with Sarandon, as long as it wasn’t in her backyard, and apparently the same goes with her thoughts on Susquehanna County, miles from New York City. Otherwise, her attitude seems to be “let them eat cake.”  One wonders if she ever played Marie Antoinette?  They are apparently related, interestingly enough.

How are the two events even related?

Well, Susquehanna County is getting a new hospital, too, and that wouldn’t be possible without the natural gas development in the area and Cabot Oil and Gas in particular. Cabot, is a company she spent a day decrying during a tour that attempted to counter evidence from the EPA and Pennsylvania DEP to the effect the water was safe, while visiting a junkyard.

The week after the tour, members of the community gathered at the new hospital site to celebrate its progress and all that has been accomplished in a year. Funds were raised by Cabot, local businesses who have seen economic growth since natural gas development, royalty money donations from local landowners and community fundraisers. Take a look at this video recapping what’s been done.

Ray Wilmarth, president of the EMHS board of directors, said, “As I stand here today, I’m thrilled to see this much accomplished.”

Dr. Joseph Speicher, an EMHS physician, described the excitement of the health care facility staff. “They are excited for what it means to our community from a whole health care point of view,” he said, including physician recruitment. Scranton Times Tribune, January 26, 2013

Peter Quigg, the president of the Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains, wrote a post on our website a few months ago telling the story of the hospital project. Here’s some excerpts from his post.

Raising funding for a new hospital in one of Pennsylvania’s poorest counties is no small feat.  Stalwart citizens rose to the task. Local businesses and individuals made contributions, while behind the scenes various grants and government loans were being sought.  Eventually land was purchased for a new facility, however, over time momentum lagged despite diligent efforts by a core group of concerned people…

…When word gets to Susquehanna County that Cabot will contribute an outright gift of $1,000,000 and then match an additional $1,000,000 raised by the general community people sit up and take notice.  A four month deadline was set to reach this goal with The Community Foundation of The Endless Mountains acting as the repository for the donations.  A few years prior to this The Community Foundation had been recognized as one of the fastest growing community foundations in the United States, but this project was in a whole different league.

People came out of the woodwork!  Mom and Pop donations of $10.00 and $20.00 arrived.  The family rumored to have provided substantial help in the past contributed $100,000; revenue realized from the Cabot well on their farm.  Corporations contributed on behalf of their employees.  Memorial donations arrived in honor of loved ones passed on.  Honorary donations arrived to recognize current doctors and nurses.  Most heartwarming of all were the large number of donations made in memory of Doc Bennett and the other staff members from the early days of Montrose General Hospital.  The icing on the cake arrived when the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, witnessing Cabot’s leadership and community participation, contributed $1,000,000!

When the dust settled the community raised more than $1,200,000!  Upon hearing this news Cabot’s upper management made the swift decision to honor the community’s participation and increased the matching grant by an additional $200,000.  Miraculously, among Cabot, the overall community, and The Weinberg Foundation, $4,400,000 had been raised for the new hospital in only four months!  This would be an amazing feat in any metropolitan area; it’s unthinkable in rural America.

Did Yoko, Sean, Susan or any of the individuals who they met notice the new hospital location they drove right past on their visit? Did they view the current hospital, one that is sub-par at best compared with what they are accustomed to? Did they speak with individuals like Peter Quigg about any of the impacts in the region? If they did, they surely didn’t mention it in the Sierra Club letter or any of the media interviews following the tour. Instead they endorsed a woman given to shouting 35 insults in 4 minutes in the crudest form imaginable.  Perhaps, if they’d like to really do something for the community they claim to care so much about, they could donate money to the needed equipment and administrative offices which will be fundraised in phase 3 of the project.

The Community Foundation of the Endless Mountains acts as the repository for donations made to the EMHS building project. Tax-deductible donations can be sent to The Community Foundation, 270 Lake Ave., Montrose, PA 18801; or visit for information.

Schools Benefiting from Natural Gas

But, that’s not the only thing they missed while visiting the quaint communities of Dimock, Montrose and Franklin Township. One has to wonder why they didn’t venture over to the Elk Lake school campus to view a completely remediated well located on the property. Or, why they didn’t speak with the school district’s superintendent about the improvements being made at the schools thanks to royalty money (more than $1 million!) from that and other wells. Did they speak with any residents about how school taxes have not been raised because of the money coming into the school district? Again, if they did, they didn’t mention it.

Elk Lake School District, Susquehanna County, PA

For celebrities, sending your children to fancy boarding schools, like the one Sean Lennon attended in Switzerland is no big deal. After all, what parent doesn’t want to give their kids the very best education they can? But, for those of us living in rural Pennsylvania, we can only hope our school districts have the available funding needed to educate our children, allow them to have arts and extracurricular programs, and prepare them for adulthood.

Institut Le Rosey, Sean Lennon’s alma mater

The parents in Elk Lake School District can now sleep a little easier knowing their children’s best interests are being kept in mind as improvements are made to curriculum and the schools’ infrastructure. It’s worth noting, those improvements would not be possible without Marcellus Shale development. That’s a fact. Would any of the celebrities who toured Dimock be interested in sending each of the children in the school district to a private school or supplementing the income the district has received from the natural gas industry? It’s not likely, and it’s honestly not fair to ask them to do so, but hey, it’s also not fair for them to say the school district shouldn’t be allowed to develop their resources that’s earning that income either is it?

The point is, for all the hype this tour has gained in the media and amongst environmental groups, we’ve only scratched the surface on what they didn’t see or comment on while they were here. Maybe they’d be interested in hopping back on that Mercedes bus and making a tour to speak with the elected officials in the county, some of the business owners, the school district, the EMHS hospital, and the other 99 percent of residents living in the community.

They could, but then that wouldn’t really fit into the agenda to keep communities in New York from experiencing the same benefits, now would it?


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