WELLSBORO - The Tioga County commissioners tried to calm the fears of a resident concerned that gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale formation will contaminate their water wells and will otherwise damage the environment.
During the meeting Tuesday, Charleston Township resident Carole Heffley, who said she retired to the area with her husband six years ago, but still maintains a winter home in North Carolina, told commissioners they had returned to their property here to find a gas well being drilled about 750 feet from their creek and the source of their water.
"Since the 1970s, I have been visiting Tioga County, and it always seemed like a place where people value the environment more than anywhere else," she said.
But now, she is concerned about Hills Creek and the unnamed creek near her home because of what she has been told by different sources about the impact of drilling.
"For instance, there is something called drill mud," that is potentially filled with toxic substances when it is created by the water that is used to fracture the shale, she said.
"The water that is used doesn't all come out, some of it stays underground, and there can be up to 26 different components including heavy metals and low radioactive materials," she said, citing a newspaper article as her source.
Heffley said when she asked where the water would come from to do the drilling, she was told by Tioga County planner Jim Weaver that it will come from the Tioga River.
"A landman told me it would come from Pine Creek, Crooked Creek and the Tioga River," she said, referring to a drilling company representative that came onto her property with an offer to lease.
Heffley said when she asked what would happen to the mud created by the drilling, she was told by the drilling company that it would be "taken away."
"I'm told 'don't worry about it,' but I have learned that the more they say that, the more you have to worry about," she said.
Heffley also expressed her concerns for the wildlife that would be displaced once drilling starts.
"The land that is needed for the pad and operation, how many animals will be disrupted?" she asked.
She also is concerned about the noise from drilling that will go on "24/7" disrupting people's lives who live nearby.
"Can't it be shut off at night?" she asked, concerned for people who have no place to go to escape it.
Heffley wanted to know if local water purification plants were ready to handle the excess water that will come through them before it is put back into the rivers.
"I was told 'nothing has happened up here that hasn't been going on for 50 years, and that's not going to change,' " she said.
"But are you prepared for the impact?" she asked. "Can they clean it up and put it safely back into the river?"
Covington Township resident Leon Kocher said he, too, is worried about the water quality but also about the amount of water that will be needed, thus affecting the water table.
"When the farmer goes out to water his cattle and finds his well is dry, will he be able to call the toll free number on DEP's Web site and get help?" he asked. Kocher said he thinks there needs to be "more monitoring" of the drilling companies' activities before there is a problem.
Commissioner Erick Coolidge said that property owners who have leased to the gas drilling companies have given up certain rights for financial gain.
"Yes, we do have concerns, we are in the hotbed of a developing area, but people are asking questions," he said.
According to Coolidge, the state Department of Environmental Protection is developing "criteria" for gas companies to attain.
"The emergency services department and the planning commission also are talking about these issues," he added.