The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

World, nation, state

November 24, 2012

Conservation groups debate gas drilling ties

PITTSBURGH — As a natural gas drilling boom sweeps Pennsylvania and other states, conservation groups are debating whether it makes sense to work with the industry to minimize impacts to the environment — and whether to accept industry donations.

The big question is “how to deal with this overwhelming impact,” said Phil Wallis, executive director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Audubon Society, adding that the industry “in general, is interested in resolving these issues.”

The drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has made it possible to tap into deep reserves of oil and gas but has also raised concerns about pollution. Large volumes of water, along with sand and hazardous chemicals, are injected underground to break rock apart and free the oil and gas.  

Over the past five years thousands of new wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio, and hundreds of miles of pipeline have been laid to transport the gas to market. And that’s just a snapshot of a similar boom in Texas, Colorado and other states.

Wallis and the Pennsylvania Audubon chapter discovered that even casual conversations with the drilling industry can generate controversy.

In August, Audubon partnered with the Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, and the Ruffed Grouse Society to hold a series of gatherings for birdwatchers, anglers, hunters and hikers to ask questions about drilling. The meetings didn’t attract much notice until it emerged that some had discussed whether the industry might donate $30 million to set up an endowment to fund research on drilling impacts.

The idea of donations “came up several times,” said Don Williams, a Harleysville, Pa. resident.

“It caught me completely off guard. I see that as somehow basically latching on and riding the coattails of the industry,” Williams said. “The message itself bothered me.”

After Williams wrote a blog post about the meeting, Audubon quickly responded that there had been no decision to seek gas drilling donations. Wallis said the $30 million was just a hypothetical number about funding a research project on drilling that a number of conservations groups might provide staff for.

Williams said a representative of Chesapeake Energy was at the meeting, acting as more of a general industry representative. Chesapeake spokesman Rory Sweeny declined to comment on whether the company is donating to any environmental groups.

Two more public meetings with outdoor groups are scheduled for December, said Steve Forde, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition.

“The sportsmen and conservation communities are an important part of Pennsylvania’s heritage and key partners in responsible shale gas development,” Forde wrote in an email. But he added that the coalition hasn’t discussed donations with any of the outdoor groups that helped set up the sessions.

It’s a sensitive issue. Earlier this year, the Sierra Club acknowledged that from 2007 to 2010 it had secretly accepted more than $26 million from individuals or subsidies connected to Chesapeake. After deciding it would no longer take such donations, the group launched a campaign that is critical of the gas drilling industry.

Environmental groups and some scientists say there hasn’t been enough research on water and air pollution issues that stem from drilling. The industry and many federal and state officials say the practice is safe when done properly, and that many rules on air pollution and disclosure of the chemicals used in fracking are being strengthened.

Sitting down with people in the gas drilling industry makes sense, said Mark Brownstein, the chief counsel for the energy program at the Environmental Defense Fund.

“If environmental groups who are both passionate and knowledgeable fail to engage the natural gas industry, who will?” Brownstein asked. “If we simply sit and protest, we’re missing an opportunity” to create stronger regulations.

Some conservation groups are finding that they can’t avoid the industry.

The Audubon Society of Western Pennsylvania owns or has easements to about 500 acres of land in the region, and drilling company representatives have approached them numerous times, according to executive director Jim Bonner.

Bonner said the chapter decided that current regulations aren’t strong enough to meet their standards for environmental protection, so they haven’t signed any gas leases. But they’re not rejecting the idea.

“We kind of put up the mirror, and said, we are consumers of gas,” and that it would be hypocritical to not try to understand all the pros and cons around drilling, and Audubon’s place in the debate.

“If a company came to us and said we’ve developed a process that does not use any chemicals, we would probably almost feel obliged to consider that, if only to help demonstrate a best practice could be developed,” Bonner said. “We all agree that energy is needed. I’d love to think that we can extract it better here than somewhere else around the world.”

1
Text Only
World, nation, state
  • Study finds 35 percent in U.S. facing debt collectors

    More than 35 percent of Americans have debts and unpaid bills that have been reported to collection agencies, according to a study released Tuesday by the Urban Institute.

    July 30, 2014

  • U.S. blasts Israel for Kerry criticism

    The Obama administration pushed back strongly Monday at a torrent of Israeli criticism over Secretary of State John Kerry’s latest bid to secure a cease-fire with Hamas, accusing some in Israel of launching a “misinformation campaign” against the top American diplomat.

    July 29, 2014

  • Outlook on Medicare finances improves

    Medicare’s finances are looking brighter, the government said Monday. The program’s giant hospital trust fund won’t be exhausted until 2030 — four years later than last year’s estimate.

    July 29, 2014

  • Plan to simplify 2015 health renewals may backfire

    If you have health insurance on your job, you probably don’t give much thought to each year’s renewal. But make the same assumption in one of the new health law plans, and it could lead to costly surprises.

    July 28, 2014

  • Hospital shooting suspect charged with murder

    A man accused of fatally shooting his caseworker and grazing his psychiatrist at a suburban Philadelphia hospital complex before the doctor returned fire has been charged with murder.

    July 28, 2014

  • Man seeks video of Oklahoma City bombing

    One man’s quest to explain his brother’s mysterious jail cell death 19 years ago has rekindled long-dormant questions about whether others were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing.

    July 28, 2014

  • Bill in Congress to help veterans with PTSD

    A group of lawmakers have joined together to help veterans with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Post Traumatic Brain Injury (PTBI) and other war injuries get speedy medical treatment — and avoid Veteran’s Administration bureaucracy and Department of Defense lack of accountability.

    July 28, 2014

  • U.S.: Russia has fired rockets into Ukraine

    Stepping up pressure on Moscow, the U.S. on Sunday released satellite images it says show that rockets have been fired from Russia into neighboring eastern Ukraine and that heavy artillery for separatists also has crossed the border.

    July 28, 2014

  • U.S. says Russia is firing across border into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.

    July 25, 2014

  • Gaza sides agree to lull but truce efforts stall

     Israel-Hamas fighting looked headed for escalation after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry failed Friday to broker a weeklong truce as a first step toward a broader deal and Israel’s defense minister warned Israel might soon expand its Gaza ground operation “significantly.”

    July 25, 2014

House Ads
Parade
Magazine

Click HERE to read all your Parade favorites including Hollywood Wire, Celebrity interviews and photo galleries, Food recipes and cooking tips, Games and lots more.
AP Video