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September 20, 2012

Report: Fracking will affect economy, environment

JOHNSTOWN — Standing against the backdrop of the 2012 Pennsylvania River of the Year, a representative of PennEnvironment Research & Policy Center discussed her organization’s concerns about how extracting natural gas from Marcellus Shale can impact water quality and people’s health.

Field associate Mary Kate Ranii said the organization is calling for a moratorium on the process following the release of a report called “The Costs of Fracking,” sponsored by PennEnvironment, Environment America and the Frontier Group. In it, the organizations contend the fracking process, which involves breaking shale with pressurized, chemically treated water, negatively impacts the environment and the long-term economy of regions when the drilling takes place.

The local release of the study occurred Thursday at downtown Johns-town’s Point Park, where the Stonycreek and Little Conemaugh rivers meet to form the Conemaugh. The once orange-tinted Stonycreek was polluted by acid mine drainage to the point where aquatic life was all but nonexistent. Now, following decades of revitalization, it is a thriving, award-winning waterway used for recreation.

PennEnvironment hopes to avoid seeing fracking cause similar problems with rivers, streams and lakes.

“Gas, like coal and like oil, is a boom-and-bust cycle,” Ranii said. “During the boom, there’s the illusion of prosperity, but after the boom ends and the gas is all tapped, counties are left paying the real price, which is health impact and ruined roads and ruined drinking water.”

Ranii was joined by area residents who spoke out against fracking, including Carl Whipkey of New Florence, Kurt Limbach of Bolivar and Rev. William Thwing, pastor of the United Church of Christ in Johnstown’s Moxham section.

“All of this – this river, these mountains, this water we drink, this air we breathe – is a gift to us from God,” Thwing said. “It’s God’s property. It’s not ours to do with as we please. God created it, God loves it and God has entrusted it to us to use while we’re here and to care for the sake of ourselves, for the sake of the other creatures that depend on it and for the sake of future generations that come after us.”

Events releasing the report also were scheduled in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg and Wilkes-Barre.

“With this report, we wanted to show people the real cost of fracking,” Ranii said. “People know about the environmental and the health impact, but we really wanted to show them the dollars and cents of what it’s going to cost.

“In Pennsylvania, we are calling for a moratorium or just a pause on drilling until drillers can prove that they can drill for gas without negatively affecting public health and the environment.”

Energy in Depth, a subsidiary of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, questions the accuracy of the study.

“I think it’s another headline-grabbing study rolled out by PennEnvironment to try to obfuscate the debate on Marcellus Shale development. ... Clearly it was developed to reach a predetermined outcome,” said Energy in Depth spokesman John Krohn.

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