Residents Ask Elk County Commissioners To Oppose Fracking

04.06.16-petitions

RIDGWAY – Half a dozen concerned citizens asked the Elk County Commissioners Tuesday morning to sign a resolution opposing fracking, a plea that came moments after the board approved to distribute more than $50,000 in grant funding from Marcellus Shale impact fees to municipalities and non-profits.

“These are some wonderful things the Act 13 money is doing, but I hope we’re not becoming dependent on these companies to do our local infrastructure,” said Sean Robinson. “I certainly don’t think a gas company sponsoring a youth event and putting a fresh coat of paint on the courthouse is worth my daughter’s future.”

The group presented the commissioners a petition calling for the board to sign a resolution in support of a county-wide moratorium on hydraulic fracturing (fracking). Armed with nearly 1,000 signatures, the six were hopeful the commissioners would sign a resolution mimicking the one it signed in December 2012, opposing injection wells in the county.

“We’re asking you to consider putting a ban on fracking,” Mike Kamandulis said.

“Of course sitting here and listening to the amount of money the county is getting from the Marcellus fund, I’m thinking – oh dear heavens. I know that it’s a heavy lift, but nevertheless we’re asking you to consider the ramifications of allowing the fracking to come in and have their way by putting pipelines, compressor stations and infrastructure in.”

The trio said they would review the resolution and the binder of information provided by the group.

While the commissioners stayed largely silent, listening intently to their constituents, when some challenged the county’s commitment to renewable energy, Commissioner Dan Freeburg spoke up. Freeburg said that in the past the county has tried to look into putting wind power on its 13-acre, 911 property on Boot Jack Road and were told after an assessment it was not suitable.

“This county was founded on extractive industries… and when they polluted a steam, there was another one; when they cut a tree, another grew back. We’re not at that point anymore,” said Kim Granche. “If I didn’t have natural gas, I would find an alternative source of energy for my home. If I run out of water, what is my alternative source? We’re running out of it.”

In the past two years, the Marcellus Shale industry has received increased push back in the form of increased municipal zoning regulations, a ban on disposal injection wells which Seneca is Highland Township in Elk County which is still in litigation,as well as resolutions, like the one discussed Tuesday, opposing certain industry actions.

While the six who stood up Tuesday were wary of hydraulic fracturing, calling it a new, dangerous, and potentially harmful technology to health and the environment, Seneca Resources spokesman Rob Boulware said in an interview Tuesday afternoon that the environment is important to the company.

“Many people don’t understand that when industry mentions that hydraulic fracturing has taken place for more than 60 years, Elk County is one of the locations where it has occurred for nearly that long. And Seneca has conducted it safely and without the environmental harm our detractors suggest could happen,” Boulware said.

In the last four years, Elk County has received approximately $1,357,753 in Act 13 Marcellus Shale impact fees and $114,101 in Marcellus Legacy funds.

The county uses some of the money on capital improvement projects at the county level and continues to grant out the remainder in two funding cycles, totaling $100,000 annually. It also awards two $5,000 scholarships to area youth entering a field of study that is oil and gas related.

Between 2004 and early 2015, approximately 100 wells have been drilled or are being developed in Elk County. Sixty percent of those belong to Seneca Resources.

Due to ongoing low prices in the natural gas market, there has been a slowdown industry wide. Boulware said Seneca is also experiencing this downtrend and as a result has dropped two of its three drilling rigs in the past few months.

It will continue to operate a single rig in Pennsylvania for the remainder of fiscal year 2016-17, which will remain in its “Western Development Area” which includes Elk, Cameron and McKean counties. Boulware said this slowdown will likely impact the economy of Elk County, where he boasted that it has spent more than $52 million with 91 businesses there between 2013-15.

Drilling activity has slowed down so much in Elk County that the county’s gas task force has announced a temporary hiatus until drilling operations increase.

On Tuesday, the commissioners approved the following grants:

  • $8,000 to St. Marys Area Ambulance Service Inc. for a transport ventilator;
  • $2,000 to Toby Creek Watershed Association Inc. for filter press repairs;
  • $8,000 to Ridgway Ambulance Corp. for 865 smoke alarms;
  • $10,000 to Horton Township Volunteer Fire Department for the water extension at their new fire hall;
  • $2,000 to Jay Township Water Authority for water meter replacement;
  • $5,000 to Johnsonburg Fire Department for universal adapters for fire hydrants;
  • $5,000 to Community Nurses Home Health & Hospice Inc. for three video telehealth units;
  • And $10,000 to Jay Township for plastic, smoothbore crossdrain culvert pipes.
  • The Tri-County Rails to Trails Association received $7,954 in Marcellus Legacy Funds for a paving and stabliziation project along the Clarion/Little Toby Trail. Legacy Funds are to be used solely for recreation.

“We’ve awarded $57,954 this round, but we had 19 requests total, totaling $138,999. It’s impossible to help everybody, but we’ve tried to help the most critical requests,” Commissioner Jan Kemmer said. “People can reapply in our fall round. Those applications would be due Sept. 1.”

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