Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Protecting Our Village

Great Article by Paul Golias

When you step back for a moment and consider the bigger picture, the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling expansion does not appear to be in the best interests of Pennsylvania residents.

But then again, how often does the welfare and quality of life of Pennsylvania citizens come into play when there is money to be made?

It just does not seem like Pennsylvanians will come out of this experience with positive outcomes. And we have the century-long experience with coal mining as evidence.

As you travel through Luzerne County and Northeastern Pennsylvania, you see culm banks and scarred landscapes that are reminders of the days when coal barons took the coal and left the waste and ruin. Only the value of once-shunned coal within the waste banks has prompted their removal, for profit, and millions in state money have been spent to clean up polluted creeks, reforest land, prepare acreage for development or seal mine entrances and air shafts. Yet many of these problems remain decades after coal companies have shut down.

With this as background, it was encouraging to see that Back Mountain communities have updated zoning ordinances to deal with natural gas drilling problems, to the limited extent that communities can set parameters. Kingston Township, for example, is eyeing truck traffic and compressor stations as potential issues.

It also is encouraging that citizens are mobilizing to protect children in home and school settings, neighborhoods, streams, reservoirs and communities in general. For the sake of jobs and the economy, we allowed Northeastern Pennsylvania to be ravaged by coal companies for decades; now, we have folks balancing all of the factors and, in many cases, choosing quality of life over the dollar.

One revelation that makes these decisions to favor quality of life easier is that foreign companies have a large stake in the natural gas drilling market. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported, in a dispatch carried in The Citizens' Voice, that foreign companies are buying significant shares in drilling companies and plan to liquefy the natural gas extracted in Pennsylvania and ship it overseas.

Once banned, exports of oil from the North Slope of Alaska are now allowed, up to 7 percent of production. Environmentalists make a good argument that allowing exports of oil or gas, at any ratio of total production, is a poor trade-off for risking land and sea degradation.

The realities of the oil and natural gas business appear to run counter to the argument of the industries that drilling and development of the resources will help alleviate our dependency on imports. Then tie in the political instability in the Mideast, our military adventures there and the expense thereof, in lives and billions of dollars, and you have some perplexing questions.

Looking at the still-scarred face of the eastern mountain overlooking Wyoming Valley, and realizing that coal seekers stripped the land and then walked away 60 years ago, one would be justified in wondering what scars will be left by the natural gas drillers of today. Are we re-living history? Is the potential degradation of the 21st century more evil than that of the 20th century, given the geopolitical quagmire in which we are enmeshed?

We applaud those individuals, citizen organizations and municipalities that are taking action to protect our village for generations to come.

Paul Golias, retired managing editor of The Citizens' Voice, writes a weekly column on regional issues. He can be contacted at pgolias@ptd.net.


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