Conservation groups debate gas drilling ties - WBOY.com: Clarksburg, Morgantown: News, Sports, Weather

Conservation groups debate gas drilling ties

Posted: Updated:
  • Local NewsMore>>

  • 13 County Coalitions Come Together To Prevent Substance Abuse

    13 County Coalitions Come Together To Prevent Substance Abuse

    Wednesday, April 23 2014 12:00 AM EDT2014-04-23 04:00:20 GMT
    It was all about celebrating recovery at the Clarksburg Baptist Church Tuesday evening .Coalition programs from thirteen different counties came together with some local officials to talk about the importance of preventing substance abuse.
    It was all about celebrating recovery at the Clarksburg Baptist Church Tuesday evening .Coalition programs from thirteen different counties came together with some local officials to talk about the importance of preventing substance abuse.
  • Volunteers Spruce Up Bridgeport Lakes With 'Community Clean Up Day'

    Volunteers Spruce Up Bridgeport Lakes With 'Community Clean Up Day'

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 11:35 PM EDT2014-04-23 03:35:46 GMT
    Tuesday turned out to be a beautiful evening for dozens of Bridgeport residents, who came out in support of Earth Day to spruce up Hinkle and Deegan Lakes.
    Tuesday turned out to be a beautiful evening for dozens of Bridgeport residents, who came out in support of Earth Day to spruce up Hinkle and Deegan Lakes.
  • Senator Rockefeller and Ted Koppel Host a Fireside Chat at WV Wesleyan

    Senator Rockefeller and Ted Koppel Host a Fireside Chat at WV Wesleyan

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 6:40 PM EDT2014-04-22 22:40:43 GMT
    It was a celebratory day at West Virginia Wesleyan College as Senator Jay Rockefeller returned to campus for the first time in nearly eight years in an event with journalist Ted Koppel. 
    It was a celebratory day at West Virginia Wesleyan College as Senator Jay Rockefeller returned to campus for the first time in nearly eight years in an event with journalist Ted Koppel. 
  • EnergyEnergyMore>>

  • Marshall Co. makes plans for natural gas combined cycle power plant

    Marshall Co. makes plans for natural gas combined cycle power plant

    Tuesday, April 22 2014 6:42 PM EDT2014-04-22 22:42:40 GMT
    The project still needs to obtain state and federal approvals to develop and build the plant, but organizers anticipate construction to begin in 2015 and operations to begin by 2018.
    The project still needs to obtain state and federal approvals to develop and build the plant, but organizers anticipate construction to begin in 2015 and operations to begin by 2018.
  • WV DEP Lifts Cease Operations Order to Antero at Harrison, Doddridge Sites

    WV DEP Lifts Cease Operations Order to Antero at Harrison, Doddridge Sites

    Monday, April 21 2014 1:00 PM EDT2014-04-21 17:00:50 GMT
    The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of Oil and Gas have issued violation notices to Antero Resources.
    The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the Office of Oil and Gas have issued violation notices to Antero Resources.
  • Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    Fracking foes cringe as unions back drilling boom

    Monday, April 21 2014 8:51 AM EDT2014-04-21 12:51:19 GMT
    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they're now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.That vocal support from blue-collar workers complicates efforts by environmentalists to limit the drilling process known as fracking.
    After early complaints that out-of-state firms got the most jobs, some local construction trade workers and union members in Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia say they're now benefiting in a big way from the Marcellus and Utica Shale oil and gas boom.That vocal support from blue-collar workers complicates efforts by environmentalists to limit the drilling process known as fracking.

KEVIN BEGOS, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) — 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 conservation 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."

John Eichinger, president of the Ruffed Grouse Society, hopes the discussions with the drilling industry lead to some changes. He thinks the Marcellus Shale Coalition may support some of the suggestions that conservation groups made for stricter regulations.

 

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press