Cumberland Times-News

Local News

June 25, 2011

Sportsmen monitor gas drilling in Marcellus Shale

WHITELEY, Pa. — Fishermen are gearing up and hunters are taking aim — for Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

A new coalition of outdoors groups is emerging as a potent force in the debate over natural gas drilling. The Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation isn’t against the process of fracking for gas, but its members want to make sure the rush to cash in on the valuable resource doesn’t damage streams, forests, and the various creatures that call those places home.

The movement grew out of grass-roots anger as passionate outdoorsmen found their questions about drilling and wildlife brought few answers from local or state officials.

“Either we didn’t get a response or the answer we got didn’t seem feasible or acceptable. It didn’t seem like the people who were in charge had their pulse on what was actually happening,” said Ken Dufalla of Clarksville, Pa.

Energy companies have identified major reserves of natural gas throughout the Marcellus Shale, which underlies much of New York and Pennsylvania, and parts of Maryland, Ohio and West Virginia.

More than 3,300 wells have been drilled across Pennsylvania in just the last few years. The boom has raised concerns about the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, a drilling technique in which water, sand and a small amount of chemicals are used to open gas-bearing shale formations deep underground.

Already, preliminary water testing by sportsmen is showing consistently high levels of bromides and total dissolved solids in some streams near fracking operations, Dufalla said. Bromide is a salt that reacts with the chlorine disinfectants used by drinking water systems and creates trihalomethanes. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says trihalomethanes can be harmful to people who drink water with elevated levels for many years.

Dufalla stands alongside Whiteley Creek, a little mountain stream in Greene County. But something is wrong. The grass is lush and the woods are green, but the water is cloudy and dead-looking.

“It used to be a nice stream,” teeming with minnows, crawfish and other aquatic life, he told The Associated Press. No more, said Dufalla, a former deputy game and fish warden for Pennsylvania.

He’s worried that nearby gas drilling has damaged the creek, either from improper discharges of waters used in fracking, or from extensive withdrawals of water. The drilling industry says numerous studies have shown fracking is environmentally safe, but Dufalla and other sportsmen want to be sure.

The goal is to build a water quality database that identifies problem areas and makes that information available to the public. Currently, there’s little scientific information about whether or how much fracking water impacts wildlife.

Numbers suggest that many people share Dufalla’s concerns, in Pennsylvania and throughout the region. Two years ago his local chapter of the Izaak Walton League (a fishing group) had 19 members. Today there are 111.

More than half a dozen existing outdoors groups are part of the Sportsmen Alliance, and collectively they have more than 60,000 members in the states that overlay the Marcellus. Numbers like that mean there’s an established grapevine to reach sportsmen and women, and the ties to national groups bring access to experts and funding.

Members of the Sportsmen Alliance are scheduled to meet in July with Michael Krancer, the new secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, said Katy Dunlap, a spokeswoman for Trout Unlimited, a national fishing group based in Arlington, Va.

“We are making specific requests with regards to Wilderness trout waters in Pennsylvania,” Dunlap said, such as additional review of proposed wells near such waters.

Some areas may be too environmentally sensitive for drilling, and the Sportsmen Alliance is building a list of places that need special protection, Dunlap said. “Places that once you destroy, you can’t take back,” she said.

Whether the drilling industry would accept additional limits in some areas remains to be seen.

So many wildlife lovers have expressed concern over drilling that the Sportsmen Alliance has moved beyond relying on volunteers.

Earlier this year Dave Sewak began working full-time across Pennsylvania, giving educational talks and training a network of volunteer water testers. “We support the energy development; we just want to see it done right the first time. I think hunters and fishermen are the original environmentalists,” said Sewak, a Windber, Pa. resident. He’s paid by Trout Unlimited.

There has been considerable public debate over how and if fracking impacts drinking water supplies, but Dufalla and other sportsmen are worried that even low concentrations of fracking chemicals may affect aquatic invertebrates — the tiny water bugs that grow into mayflies and stoneflies, which are in turn eaten by fish and birds.

The sportsmen worry that a stream without bugs could quickly become a stream without fish, and then a valley with fewer birds, and so on up the food chain.

There are signs that both the drilling industry and sportsmen are trying to find common ground. Patrick Creighton, a spokesman for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, a drilling industry business group, told the AP his group has already met with numerous outdoors groups.

“It’s a relationship that we’re building,” he said. They’re also working with local groups on a set of “best management practices.”

Some pro-drilling outdoorsmen said that’s exactly the area that needs work.

Ed Gaw leased drilling rights to a five-acre tract of his 140-acre farm in Evans City, Pa., to the T.W. Phillips Co. and fracking began in the spring of 2009. The next year the drillers did what they considered to be a basic restoration.

“Their idea of reclaiming a site and mine were kind of night and day,” said Gaw, who knew when he signed the lease that the landscape would never look as it had before.

But Gaw didn’t just complain. He got to work, investing about $20,000 in a restoration that included planting hundreds of spruce and fruit trees. Now there are more deer on the property than before drilling began, he said.

But no one wanted to talk about restoration in the beginning. Gaw remembers telling the drilling company that a beautiful restoration would be in their long-term interest too, but they didn’t see the point. “I’m going to take you guys kicking and screaming into this model recovery,” he recalls saying.

He was right.

Last year, the Pennsylvania Game Commission sponsored a field day on the issue of reclamation at the Gaw Farm, which is about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh. At the time state officials echoed some of Gaw’s concerns.

“Landowners have received a wealth of information across the state on leasing, but little attention has been paid to reclamation and habitat recovery,” said Tim Hoppe, Northwest Region Wildlife Diversity Biologist for the Game Commission.

Part of the challenge for outdoorsmen and industry is that there isn’t much scientific information on how or if fracking impacts wildlife in the Marcellus Shale region.

University of Pennsylvania biologist Margaret Brittingham is just starting such a project, with support from the Pennsylvania Game Commission. The study will look at how drilling changes the forest habitat, and how it could impact wildlife. But it will be a few years before results are in, and that’s just one study.

In the meantime, the sportsmen know the value of keeping their hooks sharp and their powder dry, so to speak.

Trout Unlimited and some of the other sportsmen groups have staff attorneys and a history of organizing and funding successful water quality lawsuits.

Dufalla hopes the volunteer water testing database becomes a tool for negotiating with state officials and the drilling industry.

If the testing shows an ongoing pattern of water quality problems near drilling operations the sportsmen may file lawsuits, he said.

“It’s the last thing you want to do,” Dufalla said.

But some people in rural communities are past accepting assurances by the industry that fracking doesn’t cause environmental problems. Some who don’t even hunt or fish have joined the effort to patrol waterways.

Waynesburg resident Chuck Hunnell, 68, said a recent public meeting on drilling was the most radical one he’s ever been to. But what he sees in the community he grew up in has turned him into an activist monitoring the drilling industry.

“And now until I breathe my last breath, I’m going to be checking on these people,” Hunnell said.

1
Text Only
Local News
  •  Easter grass Easter grass

    Kamryn Rice, 7, of Flintstone, finds and bags a plastic egg during Cumberland’s annual Easter Egg Hunt Saturday afternoon at Constitution Park. Hosted by the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, along with students from Frostburg State University’s Recreation and Parks Management program and the 4-H Youth of Allegany County, the afternoon also included games, relay races, face painting, temporary tattoos, arts and crafts, and a petting zoo sponsored by the 4-H Hare Raiser Club, as well as a visit from the Easter Bunny. The eggs contained candy and other treats.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Business community wary of minimum wage increases

    CUMBERLAND — Allegany County businesses are certain to be impacted by the increase in Maryland’s minimum wage, set to reach $10.10 an hour by July 2018 under a law championed by Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley.

    April 20, 2014

  • Tipped workers left behind in pay hike action

    ANNAPOLIS — Many minimum wage workers will be getting a raise now that a hike to Maryland’s wage has been signed into law. But while advocates are ascribing the increase as a win, there’s a bitter aftertaste for one group that was left behind.

    April 20, 2014

  • Views vary among Americans when it comes to hourly rate

    CUMBERLAND — Even among those who have worked minimum wage jobs, views on the minimum wage can differ.
    “Minimum wage has to exist. There is no question there, so whatever it is, it will be called ‘minimum wage’. But it should not be below a living wage,” said Bonita Quick of Cumberland.

    April 20, 2014

  • Income guideline change will increase WIC recipients

    KEYSER, W.Va. — Raised income eligibility guidelines for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children will increase the number of those served in West Virginia by about 10 percent, according to the state health officer.

    April 20, 2014

  • Absentee ballots moving online causes security concerns

    ANNAPOLIS — Voters may get to skip the lines at the polls this summer by receiving and marking their ballots online, but election officials must first decide if the convenience outweighs the security risks.

    April 20, 2014

  • Allegany County emergency medical services honorees and supporters Allegany, Garrett emergency responders honored

    MCHENRY — The 75 people from Allegany and Garrett counties who were involved with two exceptional emergency medical services calls in 2013 were presented with awards at the recent Night for Stars program held at the Wisp Resort.

    April 20, 2014 2 Photos

  • Lexis Trickett meets with Gov. Martin O’Malley Ninth-grader among 30 at inaugural event

    OAKLAND — Lexis Trickett, a ninth-grade student at Southern Garrett High School, was among 30 girls who attended Gov. Martin O’Malley’s Leadership Forum for Women and Girls recently in Annapolis in celebration of Women’s History Month.

    April 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • School immunization requirements change

    CUMBERLAND — Changes to school immunization requirements by the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene affect students entering kindergarten and seventh grade for the next school year.

    April 20, 2014

  • Easter experience Easter experience

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

Facebook
Must Read
News related video
Raw: Easter Morning Delivery for Space Station Ceremony Marks 19th Anniversary of OKC Bombing Raw: Fire Destroys 3 N.J. Beachfront Homes Raw: Space X Launches to Space Station Man Charged in Kansas City Highway Shootings Obama Awards Navy Football Trophy Ceremony at MIT Remembers One of Boston's Finest Raw: Students Hurt in Colo. School Bus Crash Raw: Church Tries for Record With Chalk Jesus Police Arrest Suspect in Highway Shootings Drought Concerns May Hurt Lake Tourism Vermont Goat Meat Gives Refugees Taste of Home Calif. Investigators Re-construct Fatal Bus Cras Appellate Court Hears Okla. Gay Marriage Case Horseless Carriage Introduced at NY Auto Show Chelsea Clinton Is Pregnant Beau Biden Plans 2016 Run for Del. Governor Flamingo Frenzy Ahead of Zoo Construction Obama: 8 Million Healthcare Signups Obama Hopeful on Ukraine, Will Watch Russians