WATERVILLE - The gas industry is here to stay and well on its way to reaping benefits for the area, but it's an industry that must properly be regulated to ensure safe water quality and other environmental standards.
During a town hall meeting Tuesday night attended by some 50 people, state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Muncy, assured Pine Creek Valley residents that he's "on their side," not that of the gas drillers.
Everett patiently answered citizens' questions for about two hours about Marcellus Shale activity, much of which is taking place along Pine Creek.
David Kagan, of Turbot Village, asks a question about gas drilling during a town hall meeting at the Waterville Fire Hall Tuesday night.
He also touched briefly on the state budget and other related issues.
For the most part, however, residents were intent in querying the two-term lawmaker about gas drilling and its impact, both economically and environmentally, on the area.
"Your concerns are my concerns," he said.
The technology to extract gas is ever-improving, and while there have been a few accidents statewide resulting in water contamination, for the most part drillers are acting responsibly, he said.
Everett said it's a highly regulated industry and even moreso in Pennsylvania.
But some residents were not convinced.
David Kagan, of Torbet Village, said he wanted to know what could be done about the high level of truck traffic the gas industry is bringing to the Pine Creek Valley.
"Is there something proactive we can do?" he asked.
Everett conceded traffic is a problem and vowed to confer with state officials to further look into the matter.
Other residents expressed concern about water conditions and possible contamination from either the drilling or fracking process.
Everett said the Susquehanna River Basin Commission is charged with regulating the amount of water removed from streams by drilling companies.
Drillers, he explained, are limited as to how much water they can pump from creeks and rivers based partly on stream levels.
At one point, Everett said he will not support any moves by newly elected Gov. Tom Corbett to lease out additional state land as a means of resolving state budget problems.
In resolving the state's expected $4 billion deficit problem, lawmakers in coming months will be faced with some hard choices, possibly involving cuts to the state Departments of Welfare and Education.
He noted that some $500 million of Department of Welfare funding identified as wasteful spending must be addressed.
Another problem to be tackled is the state's transportation needs.
Everett said he favors areas of the state heavily reliant on mass transit to fund those services with their own revenues rather than tap state funding for those needs.
He said the state must become more favorable to business and tighten up unemployment compensation claims.
Many businesses simply can't fill jobs, he said.
More than one business owner has related stories to him of unemployed people choosing to collect jobless benefits rather than accept their offers to work at pay below previous wage levels.