Appalachian Basin

Pa. County Official Provides Dose of Reality on Shale Development

Mike Lovegreen, the manager of the Bradford County Conservation District came to New Berlin, N.Y., recently to discuss what natural gas development has done for his region.  The presentation was incredibly fact filled, coming from an individual who has spent over 30 years working to conserve the natural beauty of the county.

One of Lovegreen’s first topics was on the footprint of the industry. He talked about how companies have actually been able to decrease the size of the well pads since they began.  He said most of the pads in Bradford County are between four and five acres in size, and will eventually be reclaimed to one acre.  One reason for this, as he mentioned, is the fact the companies are no longer using open pits.

Lovegreen told the audience the only thing he would do differently if he could go back and start again would be to talk more with the companies about the specifics of each lease, something New Yorkers have had plenty of time to perfect (thanks, Governor).  Other than this, he said they are generally pleased with the work being done to develop natural gas in the area.

In Bradford County, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission regulates water withdrawal from the river for natural gas development and other uses.  The companies now are required to have permits through the SRBC to take even one drop of water from the river to use on a natural gas site—a stricter regulation than that to which any other industry must adhere.  On top of all the permits, the water taken from the river needs to be tracked, according to Lovegreen, “from cradle to grave.”

What about water pollution?  Lovegreen stopped the rumor before it was spread throughout the room.  They have not seen any wells, according to Lovegreen himself, compromised because of hydraulic fracturing.  He said many of the water wells in Bradford County would’ve never met safe drinking water standards years ago (before development) and still wouldn’t today due to shallow methane located all over the area. This was the case long before Marcellus Shale became a household word.

He talked about one woman in the county who claimed her water turned green.  Sounds scary, right?  Well, they rushed over to see this “green water” and she couldn’t make it turn green again.  Lovegreen said before they knew it, Josh Fox had fled to the home to make his “documentary”Gasland.  He interviewed the homeowners — clearly not asking them for proof, numbers, or any reports — and tried to make it seem as if the natural gas industry damaged their water well.  This was in spite of one of the homeowners explaining that they had methane in their water for generations, and he hadn’t seen any changes.

A great aspect of the natural gas industry for Bradford County can be seen in the unemployment rate.  Lovegreen said unemployment was astronomical before the natural gas industry came to town, and now it is among the lowest in the state.

When the industry came, the county saw a lot of out of state license plates.  Before long those out of state plates started decreasing and they saw locals picking up the jobs the out of staters were doing.  He also talked about the large amount of people who have worked to obtain a commercial driver’s license to help service the industry.

Lovegreen also talked about the number of hotels increasing due to demand from natural gas development.  These hotels are often booked a year out for many of their rooms.  He did emphasize that this could be a bad thing once the natural gas industry is finished developing in Bradford County, but production can go on for generations, which he also pointed out in his presentation.

He did acknowledge some risks and negative aspects from development, but nothing of the scale we hear in the hysterical media.  One potential downside could be that it’s harder to find a hotel room in the area, especially at the old costs.  But at the same time, this is a wonderful thing for the hotel owners and the tax payers benefitting from it. (Ever see the tax charges on your hotel bill? Those help fund public services!)

He said the competition is extremely high, so some smaller businesses are now having a harder time hiring people for a lower pay.  But there is an upside to this, too:  Some kids, straight out of school, may not want to be involved in the natural gas industry.  These kids can now take jobs that offer quicker advancement opportunities.  The support industries are just as important in terms of job creation as the natural gas industry.

When his presentation concluded, he took questions from the audience.  Many people against natural gas development in the room tried to pin their questions to only have negative answers.  This tactic didn’t work.

One question was about real estate and home value.  The questioner was shocked when Lovegreen said the value of the homes and land had gone up astronomically since the natural gas industry came to town.  He said the values are starting to plateau so they are affordable for others, but there clearly hasn’t been a downward trend as critics frequently allege.

Someone else asked if the county was complaining about not being able to sleep due to noise.  Lovegreen even chuckled at this question.  He said no, everyone slept just fine.  The only complaint would be a couple days total in the process if homes were extremely close to the site, but he hadn’t heard many complaints.

A local from Afton, N.Y., thought she was going to ask the winning question, forcing him to have another complaint about natural gas.  She asked if he had heard about mortgages defaulting or insurance claims being rejected.  He gave her the facts: Pennsylvania government and the Federal government had their own regulations about mortgages but they agreed mineral rights and surface rights, based on your lease, are separate entities and therefore cannot count as a default.

The meeting finished up smoothly and everyone left knowing a little more about what life is like living in an area with natural gas development.

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