Hearing touches on environmental issues

While most of the focus was on the economic impacts of shale production at Friday’s field hearing by the Congressional Natural Gas Caucus, the environmental side came into the conversation, as well.

The caucus’s bipartisan representatives and panelists were of the opinion that, overall, Marcellus Shale natural gas production is a good thing.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Reed, R-N.Y., said the biggest threat to Marcellus Shale development is the anti-fracking movement, and panelist John Augustine, of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, added the industry garners an unusual amount of “misinformation.”

However, some residents walked away from the meeting feeling like the conversation was one-sided.

A Williamsport husband-and-wife duo, Craig Kaufman and Luana Cleveland, were of that opinion. “This was set up and carefully controlled” to show how it benefits those who profit from the practice, said Cleveland, who ran for state Senate in the 23rd district last year against state Sen. E. Eugene Yaw.

Kaufman said there are “two sides to the truth,” and both were not presented at the hearing.

U.S. Rep. Thomas Marino, R-Cogan Station, said this is just one hearing, a snapshot focusing on economic impacts, and that people are welcome to come and testify in Washington, D.C.

Reed, who is part of the caucus, said better environmental policies and good business practices have put us in a better place environmentally.

“We’re past orange skies and orange water” from coal mining due to these policies, Reed said.

There has been tremendous recovery in the health of the West Branch of the Susquehanna River due to efforts, but acid mine drainage still impacted more than 1,000 miles of streams in the West Branch watershed in 2011, according to Trout Unlimited data.

Jeff Taylor, Ultra Pipeline, who has a site in Howard, said hydraulic fracturing or fracking fluids consist of sand and water and “natural stuff” like guar gum.

According to energyfromshale.org, water and sand account for about 99 percent of fracking fluids. Chemicals account for 0.5 percent of that mixture, it states.

But according to the Department of Environmental Protection’s 2010 “frac list,” the 80-plus chemicals that have been used in the fracking process – which includes guar gum – are a good deal more than “natural stuff.”

One of those chemicals is formaldehyde – which, according to the National Cancer Institute, is a known carcinogen, a cancer-causing substance. Another is boric acid, which is a “dangerous poison,” according to MedlinePlus, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine.

ExxonMobile Perspectives’ website claims that, “Common ingredients in hydraulic fracturing fluids… (are) in everything from detergents to cosmetics to food.” In their list, they do not include the two chemicals listed above.

Tioga County Commissioner Erick Coolidge emphasized while there has been methane gas migration in his county – which could also be from the 1930s, he said – better well casings prevent such migration and leakage of other pollutants.

Marino said he empathizes with people’s concerns about well water contamination, noting his home has a water well, and promised he will be a “watchdog” to ensure water safety continues.

“Jobs are important, but we have to protect the environment,” he said. He emphasized the need for fact-based evidence, not simply anecdotal, and invited the public to send him proof of water contamination.

Saying he has seen no evidence of such contamination, Marino said Pennsylvania can be a major player in natural gas production, adding the state could be the next Texas or Saudi Arabia. If that’s the case, Marino said, it would provide Pennsylvanians with low-cost, plentiful gas with energy independence.

U.S. Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, said his natural gas export philosophy is akin to his Blue Bell ice cream one: “Eat all we can, and sell the rest.”

Green noted until a study initiated in 2010 by the Environmental Protection Agency of the management of hydraulic fracturing is completed – and until it provides evidence he can review – he said he will support the practice under the Clean Water Act. He cited how his constituents are benefiting from reasonably priced natural gas in Texas.

Reed said in New York, they still have a moratorium on fracking, which is why he’s involved in the caucus. He is a strong advocate of “properly and safely” utilizing the industry. He insisted New York will open its doors to fracking.

“We are going to be open for business,” Reed said.

Coolidge emphasized the importance of preparing now for the next generation. “If we do this properly (regarding safety and the environment), we won’t have to apologize, and it will be a benefit,” he said.

“We want our future generations to say ‘Thank you,’ not ‘What the hell were you thinking?'” Coolidge said.