The Delaware River Basin Commission held public hearings last week on the proposed ban on hydraulic fracturing in the basin. On Thursday, the DRBC met near Philadelphia International Airport.
Public comment lasted three hours. Each speaker was allowed three minutes. Within the first half hour, a man named Jonathan Lutz from the American Petroleum Institute stated that the industry supports 320,000 jobs and encourages healthy regulation but opposes the full ban. He questioned the science quoted by many of the speakers. After his three minutes, Mr. Lutz walked out (at least I think so, I didn’t see him afterwards).
I was speaker 52. With the exception of me, every speaker afterwards spoke in favor of the DRBC’s proposal. Every one! Many asked the DRBC to go further and to expand the ban to include the prohibition of water withdrawal for fracking purposes from the basin or the treatment or storage of flowback within the basin.
A good approximation of what I said can be found here. This is not verbatim as I ad libbed my testimony based on notes I took during the meeting. I listened to every speaker, heard what they said, addressed some key points they made and stayed afterward for anyone who wanted to talk about the issues. A couple actually did.
Where was the industry? Did they care that to the uninformed who were present, the only points made were the same ones, over and over, unchallenged, about how many scientific studies linked fracking to health problems, how bad fracking is for the environment and what it does to property values? Of course, the overwhelming majority of the 100-150 people in attendance were anti-fracking activists who had their minds made up, BUT NOT ALL. In fact, I would guess that most of the attendees had never heard the industry’s environmental case articulated. They certainly didn’t hear it Thursday.
Despite paying lip service to the need to outreach to the people of Southeastern Pennsylvania (where the majority of votes are in this State), on Thursday the industry was AWOL.
The Marcellus Shale Coalition sent nobody.
The Northeastern Pennsylvania energy producers sent nobody.
The pipeline companies sent nobody.
The Pennsylvania and Philadelphia Chambers of Commerce sent nobody.
Had only three or four people spoken in opposition to the “groupthink”, the whole tenor of the meeting could have been different. Certainly the press coverage might have been.
Not surprisingly, “Dimock” was mentioned at least ten times. Imagine if a representative of Cabot Oil and Gas had been present, gotten up and said:
“Hello, I’m Joe Smith from Cabot Oil and Gas. It was my company that had the spill in Dimock and we’ve been working with the residents there since then. I can never promise that we’ll be perfect from now on, but we’ll try our best. It’s been almost a decade since that spill and nothing like that has happened since.
By the way, you might be interested to learn that about three years after that spill Cabot had to decide where to build our Northeastern Pennsylvania headquarters. We chose Dimock. The residents were thrilled. Local Dimock residents come to our headquarters every day. Quite a few of them work for us. From what you’ve been told today, you would think that the people of Dimock hate us. Actually, the opposite is true. Every poll that’s been taken of the local residents shows overwhelming support for fracking. But please don’t take my word for it, why don’t you come up and see for yourselves. On behalf of Cabot, I’m inviting everyone here to come up to Dimock and visit. I’ll show you around our offices, you can drive around the area and judge the situation for yourself. I think you’ll be very surprised.”
Does the industry care whether or not people in non-shale areas understand its position? With a little foresight, the industry could have begun to engage the residents of Southeastern Pennsylvania at an event where there was local press coverage and in a way that makes their point. The industry knew the scientific studies would be raised. Did anyone even consider bringing down a health professional from Susquehanna County to give the true story of how life expectancy has increased there since fracking started and overall public health is better?
Who exactly is getting paid right not to act as public relations consultants for the natural gas industry, and what are they doing? Until the industry gets serious about making its legitimate case to everyone in the State, it has no right to complain about how the public in Pennsylvania doesn’t understand the good it provides.
Questions? Let Dan know.