Concerns about the impact from the Marcellus Shale, particularly the environment, dominated discussion Thursday night at a town hall meeting hosted by state Rep. Rick Mirabito, D-Williamsport.
Perhaps the biggest outcry against drilling came from Barb Jarmoska, who drew loud applause with her statement, "I grieve that the word moratorium is not even part of the discussion in this forum."
To which Mirabito responded, "Well, we will certainly take those sentiments to Harrisburg and elsewhere."
Mirabito, for his part, said he could not support a moratorium on drilling as is in place in New York.
Jarmoska, owner of Fresh Life in Loyalsock Township, and others, wanted to know why the state is being used as a "guinea pig."
She said Rachel Carson was dubbed a fanatic nearly 50 years ago with her groundbreaking and prophetic book, "Silent Spring," which foretold of environmental and health problems from the use of pesticides.
"What will it take for us to learn this lesson?" she asked.
Officials who took part in the forum at South Williamsport Area High School included Lycoming County Transportation Planning Director Mark Murawski; Thomas Murphy, co-director of the Penn State Cooperative Extension and Marcellus Initiative for Outreach and Research; Dan Vilello, state Department of Environmental Protection environmental community relations specialist; Jeff Prowant, forest district manager for the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources; and Dr. Jim Richenderfer, deputy director of Technical Programs, Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
Among the concerns raised by some citizens was the level of oversight being done by regulatory agencies such as DEP.
Vilello said inspections of drill sites are being done, but, he noted, "We can't anticipate a spill. It's no different than any other industry."
Murawski said the need for transportation funding already is pressing, but will become greater with the expansion of the drilling industry.
Mirabito and state Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Lock Haven, said they both favor a severance tax but warned that it may not come without some compromise with the gas industry.
"I hope we can pass the severance tax on it's own merits," Mirabito said.
He conceded that under legislation backed by he and Hanna, 80 percent of the revenues would go to the state, but only in the first year. Local municipalities would reap greater percentages of the revenues eventually.
It was noted that a severance fee is needed to help pay for impacts on roads, the environment and additional services needed to sustain the gas industry.
"The severance fee is about tax equity," Mirabito said. Thirty-eight states assess a severance fee. It's about big players. These aren't mom and pop companies."
Mirabito added that prior to coming to the state, gas companies crunched the numbers and figured on paying the tax anyway.
Hanna said the gas drilling is about gaining access to new energy sources and protecting the environment.
Mirabito said he didn't feel the gas companies purposely pollute.
"Some companies are better than others in following the law. We aren't used to an industrial process in a bucolic setting," he said.
It was noted at one point that despite DEP funding cuts in the past year, the agency has added additional inspectors for drilling operations.
Richenderfer said between June 2008 and June 2010 some 716 million gallons of water were withdrawn from the state for drilling purposes.
He noted that translates to just 1 million gallons a day.
While many companies have on-site impoundments for water, he sees the industry eventually resorting to centralized impoundments to better manage their water needs.