WELLSBORO - Though it is not technically a "legal document," according to Marcellus Shale Community Compact author Dr. Peter Keller, Mansfield University's vice president for academic affairs, it was not signed by any of the involved parties during a panel discussion at the annual Tioga County Partnership for Community Health meeting Thursday.
Held at the newly opened Deane Center here, the panel, comprised of politicians, health industry and government representatives, and education industry leaders, as well as natural gas industry representatives, talked about how each component of the community had been impacted, mostly positively, by the industry, which came to Tioga County in 2007.
"The change in our community as natural gas development has increased has created an energy development boom that couldn't be imagined a few years ago," Keller said.
With nearly 1,200 gas wells in Tioga County, the county is the most developed, next to Bradford County, he added.
"Our planning committee has focused on this the last few years and asked how we can improve the quality of life in the county as we move forward. The Community Compact was put together with the industry to define a set of principles that represented the interests of the community and industry, but it is not a legal confining document," Keller said.
U.S. Rep. G.T. Thompson, R-Howard, said in the nearly 20 years the Tioga County Partnership has been in existence, it has "the recipe down for success" in working together as a community with a vision for the future.
"Of all the communities I look at Tioga County as a great example of how you take care of each other, make a difference and fulfill needs as they arise," he said.
He touted four positive impacts the gas industry has had in Tioga County: the transportation industry, mainly the expansion of the rail line at the Wellsboro Junction; the business community which has prospered enormously, shown by example of the newly expanded "5-star" Penn Wells Lodge; the arts and health care industries, as shown by the success of the Deane Center fundraising from a more prosperous community in general, and Laurel Health System's recent partnership with Susquehanna Health and its new modernized emergency department.
"Though there has been a slow down right now, they will be back, "Thompson said.
State Rep. Matt Baker, R-Wellsboro, talked about Act 13 and how the impact fee will benefit the communities of Tioga and Bradford counties by bringing millions of dollars into the area.
"A tremendous amount of money has been infused into Tioga County that has built our retail and tax base and added a lot of value from the industry," he said.
In addition, some property owners have made "tremendous gain," he said.
"Royalties paid to Bradford County residents just exceeded $150 million and we haven't seen the numbers yet in Tioga County," he added.
The price of natural gas has tumbled 19 percent, benefiting consumers, he added.
"There is a shared interest between industry and community to be good stewards of the land and that the environment protected," he said.
Keller said the compact, among other things, asks the industry to "be publicly accountable to a high standard of safety and stewardship for the region."
That safety and stewardship was questioned by a few people who asked that there be more transparency about the chemicals used by the industry, and that there be more protection from drilling of wilderness areas of the region, such as the "4 Corners" region, which contains the darks skies area around Cherry Springs.