Are Natural Gas Companies Drilling In Exclusively Poor Communities?

Apr 29, 2016

During a presentation at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute Environmental Law Forum in Harrisburg earlier this month, Range Resources Vice President of Legislative & Regulatory Affairs Terry Bossert said that the company tries to position gas wells away from larger, nice looking homes.

While Bossert later claimed that the statement was an example of “dry sarcasm,” Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, and Joanne Kilgour, director of the Pennsylvania Chapter of the Sierra Club, say that it is all too true. Bossert later issued an apology for his comments.

Such sights are chosen is primarily because poorer neighborhoods are unable to hire lawyers and legal counsel to combat the drilling plans, says Kilgour. The problem is further confounded by the degree of secrecy drilling companies undertake.

“It was shocking in how matter of fact it was,” Grenter says. For the two activists, it was more surprising that Bossert admitted the company’s actions so casually than the statement was itself.

Kilgour says such activities have been occurring for decades, and that low income neighborhoods were the “front line” of environmental injustice.

“It accurately represents practices that many companies within the fossil fuel industry practice,” she explains. “In Pennsylvania, and all over the country, fracking and drilling operations occur in low income communities, and yet these communities are often ignored.”

According to Grenter, when a permit is granted to a gas company to drill, the public is not informed and is disenfranchised from participating in the decision. Instead, a drill location notice is only granted to the surface land owner, people who have a private water supply within 1,000 feet of the well, and regional coal rights owners

Even those who are informed find it difficult to push back against the decision. From the day notices are sent out, the impacted residents only have a period of 15 days to contest the decision, a time frame which Grenter calls “impossible” to work with.

In neighborhoods targeted by drilling companies, both Grenter and Kilgour recommend that the community band together.

“Connect with your neighbors,” he said. “Connect with your communities, try and get organized in any meaningful way.”

“It is important to do everything within your power, and even things you think may not be within your power,” Kilgour adds. “[B]ring this into the court of public opinion, and also look at what your opportunities are at all levels to try to put yourselves in the best position you can.”

Essential Pittsburgh reached out to both Range Resources and the Marcellus Shale Coalition to come onto the show and comment on the story, but both declined.

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