Gas industry major topic on ‘listening tour’

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette 
Above, about twenty citizens turned out for a stop on the state Department of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Justice listening tour at the Genetti Hotel Thursday.

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Above, about twenty citizens turned out for a stop on the state Department of Environmental Protection Office of Environmental Justice listening tour at the Genetti Hotel Thursday.

The state Department of Environmental Protection heard about the regional effects and concerns of those impacted by nearly a decade of natural gas drilling Thursday at one of the stops in a statewide listening tour.

The Genetti Hotel was the third stop out of nine as part of the department’s Office of Environmental Justice listening tour to hear what residents were concerned about.

Historically, minority and low-income populations feel the hit of environmental impacts most, according to the office.

It is the job of the Office Environmental Justice to make sure that not one group is unjustly burdened.

But many of the residents at Thursday’s session stressed that the problems facing the county, the state and the globe are burdening everyone.

Barbara Jarmoska, an active area conservationist, said the biggest environmental justice concern in the area was gas drilling.

“I am fortunate enough to not be a marginalized person,” Jarmoska explained. “But I own rental properties around the area and during the gas boom, I had tenants that were terrified that I would raise their rent.”

The gas industry runs on a boom-and-bust cycle and it’s looking like another boom is coming, she said.

One of Jarmoska’s serious concerns was that many of the violations a well receives aren’t publicly announced.

The unjust impositions of the gas company and the lack of meaningful participation in response to it are a big negative happening in the county, Karen Frock said.

“I never voted in any referendum that said they could lease a portion of Loyalsock Creek,” Frock said. ” … We need to keep the gas industry out of our state parks.”

During a hearing in Loyalsock Township years ago, a lawyer representing Inflection Energy LLC gas company wouldn’t let residents ask questions about anything other than the well pad they were trying to put in, Ralph Kisberg said. “We can’t even ask questions,” he said. “It doesn’t seem just.”

Not all of the residents spoke about the impact of the gas company directly, but rather how to get people more involved in their environment to form a catalyst for change.

“The single biggest thing we can do is to connect people to nature,” Jim Dunn said.

Connecting people, particularly marginalized or low-income residents who live in urban areas, to the environment can be challenging because of many different social issues, he said.

“We are very fortunate here, though,” Dunn explained. “Within a mile of this very spot, you can use a public river path to walk to a community park in South Williamsport.”

DEP has a significant ability to link people to nature through their granting process, which Dunn said he would like to see more of.

“I would also like to see a policy change,” Dunn said. “To see you come up with a pilot program that would include multi-agency cooperation to create a couple of big projects. I think that would really make a huge impact.”

DEP’s listening tour is a call for public comment and participation for the first time since 2004, Carl E. Jones Jr., director of the Office of Environmental Justice, said.

“It’s important to come out and get input from those most affected by our policies,” Patrick McDonnell, acting secretary, said. “This is not the end of the conversation when we leave the room. This is the start of a feedback loop.”

DEP will be accepting comment up until May 25 online at DEP-OEJ@pa.gov or in writing to be found at www.dep.pa.gov/PublicParticipation/OfficeofEnvironmentalJustice/Pages/Listening-Sessions

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