Editor’s Note: This is the sixth in a seven-part series on natural gas drilling gleaned from a recent staff outing to Pennsylvania. It will continue each Thursday in The Evening Sun.
MONTROSE, Pa. – While its population is only a fraction of that in the City and Town of Norwich, the Borough of Montrose, Susquehanna County, Pa. shares many similarities with our area – especially as it concerns natural gas drilling and the process of high-volume, horizontal hydraulic fracturing.
The controversial procedure – utilized to release natural gas deposits from deep within tight shale formations – is being blamed for the widely publicized methane contamination of 18 residences in nearby Dimock, which lies approximately six miles south of Montrose.
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Cabot Oil and Gas have stated that hydraulic fracturing was not at fault for the contaminated water wells, blaming it on other issues which they said were subsequently remedied.
Residents in Montrose – just as in Chenango County – have widely differing opinions on the controversial process. Some are all for natural gas drilling, some completely against it while others still remain undecided. Economically, many seem to view vertical and horizontal drilling as a boon to the area, just as long as it’s done safely and remains well-regulated.
Robert Hayes, Susquehanna County resident and owner of Rusty’s Treasures in Montrose, said his primary concern was the increased truck traffic typically associated with natural gas drilling operations. Financially, however, he said he has benefited, as those involved with the process have often frequented his store while shopping for winter clothing.
“I have no big issues with gas drilling itself,” said Hayes, who added he currently has a gas lease on his property. “You have to take the good with the bad, or the bad with the good, I should say.”
Hayes admitted he is certainly concerned with the environmental issues which have become associated with gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale, specifically as it concerns the area’s water supply, but said that, so far, the negative impacts which have brought the small community national attention in the last two or three years seem to be isolated events.
However, they “do have a right to fresh water just like anybody else,” he conceded.
Local resident Maureen Hoover said she believed the reputedly contaminated wells in the nearby Dimock area were never tested prior to drilling operations, so it’s impossible to know if the water supply was negatively impacted by the process. In fact, according to Hoover, people have testified that their water had already tested positive for methane, a major component in natural gas.
Regardless, she added that natural gas drilling had brought much-needed money into the local community and had saved some farmers from bankruptcy. One, Montrose resident and dairy farmer Cindy Tompkins, said the area has definitely benefited financially thanks to natural gas drilling.
“There’s no question there’s a lot more traffic, but they do repair and restore the roads back to where they should be,” said Tompkins. “It’s definitely created jobs in the area and I know several people myself who’ve gotten jobs with them, good paying jobs.”
While there will always be environmental concerns, Tompkins said she felt those doing the actual drilling have learned a lot in the past several years.
“I think it will save this area, that’s my opinion,” she added. “It will also help the country as a whole, creating our own energy.”
Local resident and Pennypacker Security employee Ed Harris said there’s a gas well within 300 feet of his home and, contrary to what Hoover said, added his water had been tested prior to any drilling activity. His wife Gloria stated that, even with the increased traffic, their dirt road is now taken better care of than it ever was before.
Harris said he’d received a personal tour of the well adjacent to his property and believed people need to be more educated about the process.
“I think it’s been a good thing, and the only bad thing I can really say about it is that real estate has definitely gone up,” said Harris. “You can’t really find rental property since the prices are geared toward gas company employees.”
Manager at Wyalusing Backstage Video in Montrose John Collison said it’s been an “interesting process” and believed there’s been a heightened awareness to have water supplies tested. Some of that, he added, is most likely due to the problems in Dimock, where a small group of residents are currently involved in a water-well dispute with gas company Cabot.