2009-05-23 / News

GAS TASK FORCE HAS WORK CUT OUT FOR THEM

Potter County Natural Gas Task Force member Curt Weinhold, who also serves on the Planning Commission, was invited on a tour of a Marcellus shale natural gas drilling operation getting underway in McKean County. He photographed many aspects of the well, including water tanks that have been brought to the site to "hydrofracture" shale formations deep underground and release the gas. Forester Rich Curfman of Coudersport, left, and two Colorado pipeline contractors are shown at right. Potter County Natural Gas Task Force member Curt Weinhold, who also serves on the Planning Commission, was invited on a tour of a Marcellus shale natural gas drilling operation getting underway in McKean County. He photographed many aspects of the well, including water tanks that have been brought to the site to "hydrofracture" shale formations deep underground and release the gas. Forester Rich Curfman of Coudersport, left, and two Colorado pipeline contractors are shown at right. Members of the Potter County Natural Gas Task Force, meeting for the first time last week, decided to separate their many areas of study into three categories: Water Quality and Environment; Public Policy, Economics and Taxation; and Public Education/Media Relations.

Committee heads will be designated in the near future.

Later this year, Task Force members will tour a Marcellus shale well site operated by Pennsylvania General Energy Company (PGE) of Warren, one of the most active firms in Potter County.

Dozens of Potter County property owners have signed leases to allow drilling and production of natural gas in return for annual lease fees plus royalties.

Curt Weinhold Photos Curt Weinhold Photos PGE President Doug Kuntz told the group that, even with lower or fluctuating gas prices, his firm will be moving forward with its Marcellus shale gas production this year and continuing far into the future.

Acquiring enough water to produce the gas - each Marcellus well requires millions of gallons - and disposing of the water once it is contaminated are among the most serious environmental and social challenges facing the industry, Kurtz said.

Nevertheless, he forecasted a large number of jobs and other economic benefits that Potter County can expect for decades to come.

Also attending last week's meeting was Dave Mashek, a public relations specialist retained by two statewide organizations representing energy companies.

Environmental groups are also stepping up their public relations. Two of them, PennFuture and the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, held seminars last week to push their cause for taxes on the gas industry to be designated for environmental projects.

Another group, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, accused the industry of sugar-coating the impact of gas drilling. Tracy Carluccio, the organization's deputy director, warned of poisoned water wells, crumbling roads, toxic streams, loud construction, miles of gas pipelines, polluted air and higher cancer rates.

One topic of considerable discussion by the task force was the state's abrupt decision to reduce county conservation districts' role in the oversight of the natural gas industry.

Pa. Dept. of Environmental Protection (DEP) last month transferred erosion/sediment control and waterways encroachment permitting responsibilities for gas drilling activities from conservation districts to DEP.

"Conservation districts have qualified and trained staff members handling environmental concerns on a local level, which has worked for years," the Potter County Conservation District said in a protest letter sent to DEP.

The Task Force mission statement is as follows: "To bring together knowledgeable representatives with divergent perspectives to most effectively guide the development/production of natural gas in the county in a manner that protects and preserves natural resources while maximizing the economic benefit."

Meetings, which are open to the public, are being held on the second Tuesday of each month at the F. W. Gunzburger County Office Building, starting at 7 pm.

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