Guest post: Lessons learned from oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania

One of the great things about writing this blog has been the opportunity to meet people from all over the US and beyond who are engaged in the same battle to preserve a way of life from uncontrolled oil and gas drilling. People who have experienced the power of the industry to threaten their property rights, water and health are eager to help others who are experiencing the same thing.

One such person I met through an acquaintance is Ralph Kisberg, a founding member of the Responsible Drilling Alliance in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. I recommend a visit to their site — it’s full of interesting and informative material.

Here’s how they describe their work:

The Responsible Drilling Alliance (RDA) is an education and advocacy coalition based in the heart of the Marcellus shale region of Pennsylvania. RDA was founded in 2009 by a group of seven residents concerned with both the lack of objective information and the lack of public debate in their region on the large scale changes they saw occurring. Through  outreach programs, events, public forums, advertisements and an e-news letter with over 1,200 subscribers, RDA seeks to educate its members, and the public, on the ramifications of shale gas development. Along with other conservation organizations at state, national and local levels, RDA advocates for regulations needed for our environment, health, safety,
economic well-being, and quality of life.

RDA’s founding group and membership include people with gas leases and those adamantly opposed to the development in one of the largest core forest ecosystems in the eastern United States, as well as other ecologically special or inappropriate places. Protection of vital sources of clean water and air, and places for rejuvenation now, and for those who
follow, drives RDA to be a small part of a large movement for clean energy
and an ecologically and economically just society.

I asked Ralph if he would distill his experiences into a summary of lessons learned in fighting the fight in Pennsylvania and share them with us. He graciously agreed, and, after a good deal of thought, provided this list. When you read it, you’ll appreciate the hard-earned wisdom that it represents. Take a minute to read and think about what it means for us. We can all stand to benefit from the RDA’s experience.

A scene from the Marcellus Shale. Photo credit Terry Wild
A scene from the Marcellus Shale.
Photo credit Terry Wild
  1. Learn the rules:. By the time you are aware your area is threatened, the industry will have figured out your state’s laws and permitting processes, as well as how to exploit those rules and work toward getting more favorable legislation enacted. Get a clear understanding of how it all works from the state, local, and federal level as soon as you can. Learn the regulatory agency processes, legislative and rule making processes, and the role of local government. Then try not to get overwhelmed by just how well the road has been paved for what you don’t want to happen and get involved in those processes.
  2. Focus. Look to who is holding off the Fracking Army so far: New York state and the Delaware River Basin communities, along with a handful of others around the country. Why? Because they had processes in place to delay permitting, along with large numbers of committed activists who have the support of a good deal of the public, and some wise political leaders who figured out that many of their constituents have far more to lose than the value of the benefits others stand to win.
  3. In most states, decision makers perceive the invasion will lead to large number of winners vs. a few inconsequential losers. How do you change that perception? Begin by understanding it. Tax revenues will go up significantly. Inflated job numbers will be drummed into the public with remarkable persistence, and regions of the state long written off as a drain on revenue are suddenly looked to as rainmakers for state coffers. Resistance to these arguments by politicians on all levels is rare.
  4. Locally, the fight is among a small number of winners versus many who will lose. But chances are, those benefitting have been disproportionally influential long before shale exploitation came to town. Among the general public, many will buy into industry and chamber of commerce arguments of local benefits and national interest justifications. Look at what is spent to insure that. Eventually, public perception in local, directly impacted areas will change, that has been studied and well documented for decades, but it takes time. Time your area does not have. Focus on what can win where you live and in your state. Is it property value issues, health concerns, quality of life impacts, water use or water quality? Get a realistic grip on what is winnable and what is not, given your state and local area’s situation.
  5. The public has a limited attention span and you’ll easily use up your turn at holding it. Concerned citizens will throw out all kinds of good, logical reasons why hurrying down the shale road is a horrible idea, but the public and their representatives soon tire of hearing too much thrown their way: water use, quality and disposal issues, air quality threats, regulatory exemptions, radiation concerns, quality of life issues, negative social impacts, property devaluation concerns, toxic trespassing, earthquakes, too many Texans rushing around, and the overarching climate devastation arguments. Repeated enough, most folks begin to tune it all out. Environmental arguments are hard to prove definitively and are often only won after damage gets so extensive it cannot be ignored.
  6. Once the industry is in, it is time to switch tactics. When the Fracking Army has begun overrunning your territory, let other people fight the war. Assist them as much as you can, but in the place that you love it’s time to start winning some local and regulatory battles. There is a lot of shale in the nation. What is economically exploitable in your specific area, or most likely even your state, is not necessary for achieving any loftier goal than corporate profits. But from a nationwide perspective, it is hard to win arguments against shale resources in terms of economic benefit and national security. Nationally, climate arguments over shale are not yet winnable. Will it work in your area to pursue these arguments? Standing up for a way of life, a quality of life that you love, is nothing to be ashamed about. A tranquil, slow paced area with clean air and water resources and remarkable beauty is reason enough to fight against the massive, invasive footprint of shale development. Such development doesn’t need to be everywhere it can possibly be, now or in the near future. Most everyone needs places of respite from the stresses of civilization. Places where the natural world dominates, places for healing, relaxation, re-creation, or just to immerse the self in natural beauty or solitude. Many just need to know such places still exist.
  7. Learn from history. Theodore Roosevelt and Gifford Pinchot fought hard for the concept of conservation of natural resources, to establish the need for preserving the nation’s forests and fresh water, “the most vital internal question of the United States” and for the perspective that, “There is nothing more practical in the end than the preservation of beauty…” For inspiration read of the origin of these quotations of Roosevelt’s in, “The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America” by Timothy Egan or, “The Wilderness Warrior: Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America” by Douglas Brinkley. Read Russell Gold’s “The Boom” for knowledge of the history, problems and benefits of shale resource development. Investigate the work of Thomas Linzey and the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF) to learn exactly how money interests have subverted democracy and how communities can begin the process of taking it back.
  8. Remain friends with the enemy of your enemy. It has been noted by many that powerless groups turn on each other. It is human nature. This is quite beneficial and amusing to invaders and their collaborators. You may find it necessary to fight among yourselves to keep your sanity and it may get ugly, but do your best to keep these debates and disagreements out of the public eye. Lighten up on your allies; remember that you are all being driven batty by the injustices, waste and regret of the takeover. Remember, a Fracking Army invasion is only a piece of a bigger fight, one that requires multiple strategies and may take decades to win.

About davidjkatz

The Moses family has lived on the Stillwater River since 1974, when George and Lucile Moses retired and moved to the Beehive from the Twin Cities. They’re gone now, but their four daughters (pictured at left, on the Beehive) and their families continue to spend time there, and have grown to love the area. This blog started as an email chain to keep the family informed about the threat of increased fracking activity in the area, but the desire to inform and get involved led to the creation of this blog.
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4 Responses to Guest post: Lessons learned from oil and gas drilling in Pennsylvania

  1. Mary Fitzpatrick says:

    Thank you, David, for sharing these thoughts. The language of local defense in a war is apt; we are not playing high school Civics here! As corporations impose the Industrial Growth Society over more of the Earth we should be teaching high schoolers and all how civics really works. What is it about holding public office or agency position that renders a person so gullible and short-sighted as to believe the claims and promises of corporations? These are, by bad DESIGN, psychopathic entities meant to run roughshod over people, nature and anything standing between them and profit. We need to stop them, and we need a new design, and new laws. Why resist big government while embracing rule by big corporation?

  2. Pingback: Billings Gazette Letter to the Editor: Pete Dronkers | Preserve the Beartooth Front

  3. Sarah says:

    You know this is the same with everything in life.
    You would think history teaches us anything, but that’s so rare.
    Hate all you want but the world changes rapidly, and we have no control over it.
    For instance, If only Obama had enough balls to put Putin to his place, but it seems like it’s not happening, welcome WW3.
    Great post, thanks!

  4. Pingback: A personal story: Kelly, Shrewsbury Township, Pennsylvania | Preserve the Beartooth Front

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