Dimock, PA - April 12, 2010 - Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, Montgomery County Commissioner and former congressman, Joe Hoeffel (D), spent the day listening to residents in Susquehanna County, in the northeast region of the state, whose lives have been changed by the effects of gas-drilling. After meeting with citizens in Montrose, Hoeffel toured the rural community of Dimock where tests on drinking water, performed in the wake of gas-drilling, have shown alarmingly unsafe levels of aluminum, iron and methane; and where one well exploded last year.
"I am meeting with people whose wells have been polluted to hear what they have experienced," Hoeffel said.
Susquehanna Country sits on the Marcellus Shale, a geological formation deep beneath the earth's surface, running from West Virginia through Pennsylvania into New York State that contains generous amounts of natural gas. http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2010/03/hydraulic_fracturing.html
Hoeffel is the only gubernatorial candidate in the Pennsylvania primary to call for a moratorium on gas-drilling in the Keystone State, even though neighboring New York has a moratorium on drilling until the state can establish appropriate regulations.
The process for extracting gas from deep levels of shale--developed by Halliburton--has turned Pennsylvania into what some landowners refer to as "the wild west." For nearly ten years, landowners on the Marcellus Shale, like those in Susquehanna County, have been inundated with offers of money in exchange for leases to drill on their property. Some landowners signed leases early understanding neither how the drilling would reconfigure the landscape nor the environmental hazards of the fluid--called "fracking fluid" or "sand"--that is used in hydraulic fracturing to release natural gas from the shale.
Some state legislators, like some of the landowners, perceive gas-drilling as a lucrative source of revenue. They are not always sufficiently informed, however, by the gas companies about the risks of hydraulic fracturing. http:///www.frackmountain.wordpress.com/2010/02/12/dimock-natural-gas-drilling
"Coal mining was not well regulated in Pennsylvania," said Hoeffel, "and it is the same with gas-drilling."
Hoeffel has already met with landowners in southwest Pennsylvania's Greene County where gas and coal companies are blaming each other for pollution that killed all fish, mussels and other aquatic life along the 35-mile stretch of Dunkard Creek, which crosses the PA-West Virginia border.
After Susquehanna County, Hoeffel plans to meet with landowners and residents in Bradford County where chemicals in the water, in homes near drilling sites, are so toxic that when Randy Jennings of Leroy Township put a lighted match under his kitchen faucet to extinguish it--after lighting the candles on his child's birthday cake--the sink went up in flames.
There are countless stories like that of Randy Jennings. In addition to the environmental and health hazards of gas drilling, there are economic ones. Some insurance companies will not insure a property near a gas well and the proximity to drilling can void insurance policies already in place. Also, homeowners cannot sell their homes when they are on or near drilling pads.
Asked what he would do about gas-drilling in the Marcellus Shale if he were governor, Hoeffel said, "I would put a moratorium on drilling permits until the industry deals with issues of waste water."
Thus far, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has leased one-third of its forests for gas drilling and the state legislature has a bill to try to prevent the state from leasing 50-60,000 more acres.
"I would, also, put a moratorium on the leasing of state land until an inventory is taken," Hoeffel explained, "and until a decision is reached by the state, with public input on how to manage it."
Hoeffel would also put a "healthy" extraction tax on the gas industry similar to the five percent tax in West Virginia. "I would go higher than the governor [Ed Rendell (D-PA)] has proposed."
He would use that tax to buy back mineral rights on state land, and to restore and increase funding to Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection and the state's "Growing Green Program," which has saved hundreds of farms, created thousands of jobs, cleaned up more than 500 abandoned mines and gas drilling sites, and preserved nearly 50,000 acres of open green space throughout the Commonwealth. http://www.businesswire.com/portal/site/home/permalink/?ndmViewId=news_view&newsId=20100325006436&newsLang=en
"The DEP and 'Growing Green' need a governor who supports environmental protection programs," Hoeffel added.
Equally important, Hoeffel would use money from an extraction tax increase on gas companies to help restore the infrastructure of communities where gas drilling has taken place. Once the gas companies have extracted the maximum amount of gas from a community, which can last perhaps fifteen years, they leave--and they leave a ravaged landscape behind them. He would use the funding to expand community colleges--the best opportunity for affordable higher education--to train people for green jobs, including gas industry jobs.
"The point of giving money to communities where drilling has taken place is to make sure those communities benefit long-term from all of this," Hoeffel explained.
Pennsylvania's two major industries are agriculture and tourism--the Commonwealth's farmlands and deep forests, like those in Susquehanna County's Endless Mountains are beautiful. These natural treasures--and clean drinking water on which life itself depends--cannot be replaced.