Panel discusses pros and cons of fracking with Donegal area residents
By Cami Dibattista
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
In an attempt to educate the public and local businesses on the topic of Marcellus shale industry development in the area, the Mountain Laurel Chamber of Commerce recently organized a presentation on hydraulic fracturing — commonly known as fracking — at the Indian Creek Valley Community Center.
“As a chamber of commerce, our duty is to represent the interests of our area's businesses, including the community and environment in which they operate,” said Kris Enberg, the chamber's executive director.
“Regarding practices used to harvest our natural resources, our duty is to build awareness and educate,” she said.
Fracking is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure to fracture shale rocks to force fissures in the rock to open and release the gas or oil inside.
It has become a hot topic in the area since drilling companies began tapping the Marcellus shale for natural gas.
As it most often occurs in rural areas, western Pennsylvania is a prime spot for this project.
The first in a series of chamber-hosted meetings designed to provide source-generated information, the evening began with a free public screening of the 2013 documentary “FrackNation,” created by investigative journalist Phelim McAleer.
The film examines the process of fracking for natural gas and aimed to address what its producers claim is misinformation about fracking — such as that it allows chemicals to leach into the ground, contaminating water supplies and that it is known to trigger earthquakes.
A panel discussion followed the viewing, and a question and answer session concluded the meeting.
Speakers included Jordan Frei, an official with the office of state Rep. Mike Reese, R-Mt. Pleasant Township; Kathryn Hilton of the Mountain Watershed Association; Davitt Woodwell of the Western Regional Pennsylvania Environmental Council; Susan Oliver of WPX Energy; and Jason Rigone of the Westmoreland County Economic Development Corp.
“Pennsylvania's relationship with natural resources is very complicated,” Woodwell said. “There are real pros and cons and we'll be facing this for decades to come.”
Oliver said fracking is currently being conducted in Cook Township and the Donegal area.
“Natural gas development provides the Laurel Highlands area, and our entire nation, the opportunity to benefit from clean-burning, low-cost energy that is safely produced right here in Westmoreland County,” Oliver said.
Rigone noted that area fracking has created many jobs, and it has helped keep the commonwealth afloat through the nation's tough economic times.
“Many jobs are supported by the natural gas industry,” he said. “From an economic impact standpoint, this low-cost, abundant supply of energy can bring even more jobs back to (Pennsylvania).”
Hilton said she attended the event to discuss the organization's Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project, developed to provide assistance to citizens in areas where shale gas development is taking place.
“All parts of the life cycle of natural gas industrialization expose residents and workers to toxic substances which lead to negative health impacts,” Hilton said.
The project assists citizens in protecting their property, health and environment from the impacts of Marcellus shale activity, Hilton said.
Many of those in attendance expressed concern about contamination of water sources during the question-and-answer session.
Cook Township resident Annie MacDougall spoke of a family in the Donegal area who was having water contamination issues after fracking occurred on their property.
“What is WPX doing to rectify this situation?” she asked.
In response, Oliver stated that it was not determined that the drilling was the cause of the contamination.
Rector residents Douglas and Bridget Shields voiced concerns about the message being sent to the public by industry officials.
“The promoters of drilling always avoid the downside and promote the upside. There is no mention or illustration of hazard and risks,” Douglas Shields said.
Jones Mills resident Marty Hinebaugh asked what specific environmental issues were being monitored by WPX Energy as its workers labored in the region, and what became of the water used in the hydraulic fracking process.
“While conducting hydraulic fracking in Pennsylvania, we are constantly staying in touch with regulators and looking out for the environment,” Oliver said.
Oliver added that all aspects of the process were being regulated and the water that is used is transported to a water treatment facility where it is cleaned and then issued for reuse.
Enberg said the presentation impressed chamber officials based on “quality presentations and thoughtful questions from the audience.”
Chamber president Merle Skinner, the event's moderator, noted that several audience members gathered information from the panelists before, during and after the meeting.
“Many of those residents, and others that did not speak out during the meeting, expressed their thankfulness for the opportunity to have such information presented professionally,” he said.
In March, the second meeting of the chamber's series will cover the Act 13 Impact Fee and the many economic benefits to local communities and businesses in the area.
Cami DiBattista is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.
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