Friday, March 9, 2012

Statements to County Commissioners March 7

Commissioners Westmoreland County March 7, 2012
Topic: Impact Fees from Marcellus Shale drilling
Issue: How will these fees will be spent
Proposed thus far: road and bridge repair
Problem with proposal: road and bridge repair should be addressed by another revenue source. This impact fee should be used to address the impact on human health, not just infrastructure.
Advice: The American Lung Association rates the air in Westmoreland County as D level. Better than Allegheny county with its F rating but not far ahead. We know Marcellus Drilling causes air pollution but we need much more precise information in order to protect the health of our citizens. We should use the impact fee to establish the facilities and personal for frequent testing to determine the following:
what contaminants are found in shale drilling pollution,
what are the volumes of shale drilling pollutants,
what are the intensities of shale drilling pollutants
what are the locations of shale drilling pollutions
what directions do the plumes of shale drilling pollution follow
We must gather this information in order to protect the health and well-being of our citizens. We cannot take the word of the industry about these pollutants because there is a clear conflict of interest. We must use impact fees to establish an independent, certified air and water pollution testing company. If we fail to implement a rigorous and well-publicized monitoring system we risk the health of our citizens.
Roads and bridges need repair, to be sure, but if someone is sick you do not first pave the driveway, you address their sickness. In order to know how sick we will become from this industrial pollution we need to test, test, and test again.
Only with enough well-documented test results can we determine the levels and kind of pollution.
Only after we have enough information will we be able to enforce the law.
Only with knowledge can we confidently shut down illegal operations and fine them into compliance.
The county would be foolish to fight the deep-pocketed business conglomerates without enough data. THEREFORE we need testing that is frequent, thorough, and publicly known. The country government must have confidence when it takes legal action against polluters and this confidence can only come from rigorous testing.
J. Michael Atherton
916 Essex Dr.
Greensburg, PA 15601


Questions for County Commissioners
Will the shale impact fee compensate us for becoming another county hit with shale syndrome?
Shale syndrome is a new medical condition documented in people near shale gas operations. This new industry exposes citizens to a cocktail of air and water toxins. It often begins with respiratory problems and if people are properly tested, we find industry specific substances such as benzene and heavy metals in blood and urine.
Westmoreland County already has a D rating in air quality and our water is not ideal. We know shale trucks, drilling motors, compressors, release serious air pollutants. We know counties with A ratings dropped to F only 3 years after shale operations arrived. Look at the list of carcinogens like benzene and other toxins in Dish Texas air. Look at how the tiny town of Dish is monitoring air and public health. I propose we spend some of the impact fee to write grants to document the air, water and public health of Westmoreland County. We are going to get shale syndrome here.
I want to use the impact fee to document impacts and better protect our citizens. That’s what you were elected to do. Road repair should be paid by those who damage roads. Water and sewer are already covered by state and federal programs. Shale impact fees should be directed to handle shale syndrome.
I am leaving you with publications from the EPA and scientific journals that document the serious problems we face in
1. bad air quality – e.g. Local air monitoring and local warning systems when air quality drops
2. uncertain of water quality
a. a minor spill on one of the several well pads next to the water’s edge of Beaver Run Reservoir contaminates water for 80,000 people.
b. private wells near drill pads (but beyond the 1000 ft. limit) cannot document water problems they see because they can’t afford the hundreds of dollars for testing
Cynthia Walter
916 Essex Dr.
Greensburg, PA 15601
Science Advisor to Westmoreland Marcellus Citizens Group


Here are our statements.

Andy ???? spoke on problems of people with water buffalos he has seen in nearby areas and the issue of deep injection wells. He noted that the DEP said the water in those home was OK to drink, but he challenged anyone in the Corbett administration to take a sip. He implied that the impact money might be useful to help people caught in limbo.

Bridget Coyne spoke on problems she has observed as a housing and property rights lawyer such as:
1. drillers do not want to put even the most standard provisions into contracts - Bridget - can you give the technical names of these?
2. home owners cannot get insurance to cover damages and/or liability for problems driller may cause outside their property, e..g, air, water or noise spreads beyond the property line and property owners might get sued, even thought they do not control industry activities.
3. if a homeowner sells a property, the gas rights might be severed, so the new owner has no control again over what happens.
4. If a catastrophic event occurs, even big industries do not have much insurance, e.g. a big group has $400 million but thousands of wells, leaving a small amount in insurance/well. Even $400 million applied to one catastrophic event will not cover much. (e..g, BP is spending billions on one event. )
More points Bridget?

Commissioners made a few points:
1. They have not yet decided how the money will be spent.
2. They said they have no legal basis to control some of the health or other issues we mentioned.
3. They encouraged citizens to help the DEP by reporting any unusual, possibly harmful activities.

Andy replied that he saw trucks dumping along an interstate highway on a Sunday night, called the state police but received no indication they would investigate. When Andy asked who to call then, the commissioners suggested he call his state representative - yes, they suggested we call a state legislator on a Sunday night to report an industry violation.

Lou Pochet made two suggestions:
1. Train local law enforcement officers to recognize and report problems. They can be adjunct DEP assistants.
2. Use some of the impact money to restore services such as library hours that have been cut. People who depend on services such as the library as their main source of information and computers are the least able to find alternatives in these tough times.

The Latrobe Paper, reporter, Tony Sonita, talked with us at length afterwards. He is particularly interested in the issues of property values. We heard a lot about health, can we provide reports on financial impacts?

Note to all: Please thank the Latrobe Bulletin for employing a reporter to attend and report on important local news.