Only Time Will Tell Editorial

Towanda, PA Daily Review
22 February 2009

It's not a perfect analogy, but most should get the point: The chickens have begun to come home to roost. They've crossed the road. Why? To get to the feast. But, what of the feeding frenzy -- the impact in Bradford County of the startup of drilling by natural gas prospectors?

Not to be Chicken Little; the sky may not be falling – yet. But, the signs are ominous. Will we end up with a cornucopia of prosperity for some and a famished landscape for the remainder?

Local residents, including elected officials, must rally and act to protect the environment, infrastructure and aesthetics of the area, while not stifling much-needed economic growth.

The priority for attention to the issue, and responsible action, must be the highest. Consider the following highlights of developments over less than a year here:

May 7, 2008, news item: Legions of smooth-talking representatives of multi-billion-dollar companies have been prowling the Endless Mountains, ready to spend big bucks to lease the rights to what lies beneath – the natural gas in the vast Marcellus shale.

June news item: Drillers strike natural gas in the region.

July editorial: Pennsylvania is the only major gas-producing state that does not have a "severance tax." Lawmakers should adopt a reasonable severance tax (and a portion of the money be returned to local jurisdictions to pay for such things as infrastructure repair).

August news item: The Bradford County commissioners returned home after a fact-finding trip to Texas, where they learned how extensive gas drilling could affect Bradford County.

August editorial: The rush to prospect for natural gas below Bradford County has the potential for enormous impact. The amount of money flowing to landowners likely will be substantial. The effect on the environment, and the potential for environmental degradation resulting from the drilling, extraction, storing, transporting and other aspects of the production process also likely will be substantial.

November news item: Dozens of Athens Township residents protest water pumping facility for natural gas drillers. Paul Chacona, president of the Athens Borough Council, said, "We're very concerned about the amount of truck traffic coming in both directions."

November editorial: State regulators were not ready for the natural gas gold rush that has enveloped a broad swath of Pennsylvania, including Bradford County. But as the Department of Environmental Protection attempts to accommodate requests for drilling permits, environmental protection must remain a greater priority than haste.

10 days ago: One of the main roads in Towanda Township looks like it is a "war zone" after numerous trucks traveled on it to get to gas drilling sites, a local resident told Bradford County commissioners. Kim Corbett, of Asylum Township, said the degradation that has occurred over the past week to state Route 2010 in Towanda and Asylum townships has been "amazing."

As the chronology above documents, the impact of the natural gas phenomenon on Bradford County's infrastructure, as well as the environment and the region's aesthetics, must become a high priority, along with figuring out who will pay to cope with such stresses, strains and the likely need for oversight repair and rehabilitation.

As it stands now, as we have said before, it appears there is no revenue that local government will realize as a result of the anticipated bonanza. Nobody likes to impose new taxes but the reality is that enormous profits stand to be made here and a fraction needs to be devoted to protecting the public's interests.

So, there is much to be done. County, township and borough officials alone cannot accomplish it all. The state must involve itself vigorously.

Lawmakers have begun to introduce bills addressing different aspects of the gas rush. Some seek to ensure accurate measurements of extracted gas, in order to guarantee accurate royalty payments to leaseholders. Some address specific aspects of the environmental issues, including mandatory response times on complaints filed with the Department of Environmental Protection. Diversion of water from the Susquehanna River water shed and water quality in general are other concerns.

Events are moving at a rapid pace. There is no time for procrastination. Lawmakers should develop a comprehensive package of public protection and pass it in this session.. Already, it's a case of better late than never. At the same time, local officials are right to press their own inquiries into what they can do, and work with the state. Road destruction and water quality are high priorities.

Our future is at stake. Will we have feast or famine? Only time will tell and time is of the essence.