Lessons Learned Leave Me Prudently Pro-Gas
Shortly after I started this job, I introduced the concept of the Impact series during one of our Friday morning editorial meetings with the idea that outlining the affects of the gas drilling from the varying perspectives of readers throughout our coverage area might garner me a better understanding of the industry’s dynamics, as well as to afford me an opportunity to make contact with many different people. I left my mind open to the possibility that, although I would continue to seek that elusive middle ground between progress and controversy, this investigation would open my eyes to facets of the gas boom that I hadn’t previously considered. And it has.
I had hoped that the miles logged, emails sent, and phone calls made would translate into five stories with which readers in each of the respective areas could identify, even if they didn’t agree with my synopsis. As the final installment of the series – Impact: Wyalusing – goes to press and brings the story home to our headquarters, I look back on what I wrote about each area and wonder, had I approached the five areas in a different order, if I would have portrayed the situations there any differently.
While it may seem so from the outcome, the order in which I covered Susquehanna County, Wyoming County, Sullivan County, the Towanda Area, and the Wyalusing Area was not random. Geographically speaking, I moved in a clockwise spiral from the northeast, around Wyalusing and (this week) back to the core of our operations here. The truth is that the gas-drilling boom began in Bradford and Susquehanna counties almost simultaneously, with Chesapeake Energy and Cabot Oil and Gas among the primary outfits to slip into the area a little more than five years ago to begin their acquisition of mineral rights from property owners.
That common thread of history lent a shared experience to the first, fourth, and fifth stories in the series. In the end, Wyoming and Sullivan counties stand part from the rest for different reasons. The sentiments of residents, business owners, and elected officials in both areas are based largely on what they have seen and heard about drilling in Bradford and Susquehanna counties. Wyoming County is bracing for the inevitable growth of the industry with a confidence gained from a calculated scrutiny of the boom’s early days. Sullivan County sees the writing on the wall, but its residents are not yet ready to accept what its neighbors to the north and east see as fate. Even elected officials there express skepticism and valid concerns about how drilling and the construction of gas pipelines will affect tourism, which is its greatest asset.
Most of the people whom I interviewed for the series, especially elected officials, feel that they are much better equipped today to deal with current and future industry-related concerns than they were five years ago when they thought that participating in a controlled visit to an active drilling sight or watching a slide presentation about gas drilling and fracking produced in Texas was all they needed to deal with what lay ahead. They can laugh at their own naivety while still acknowledging that the boom brings with it both benefits and serious challenges. Most of the commissioners, municipal supervisors, and emergency management officials with whom I spoke also feel that gas company officials have also learned much about how their operations in this region differ and require a more proactive approach than was necessary in the lower, Midwestern states.
I had hoped to grant the gas companies a greater voice in the series, but I found their representatives to be reticent about providing comments for what they considered to be too broad an approach. The excuses that I encountered ran the gamut, but it became obvious to me that these companies never expected the intense scrutiny that we (press and populace) have imposed on them and they would like us to just stop bugging them so they can go about their work. While I believe that several of the companies that have endured the bulk of the controversy have made great strides in mending fences with individual landowners and groups, there is a tension between the gas industry and area residence that remains strong. I’ve heard many local people wonder out loud what would allow these same companies to operate in Texas and Oklahoma without a similar backlash against procedures that appear on the onset to be so obtrusive.
While I dislike the increased traffic, the sight of clear-cuts for drilling pads and pipelines through forests, and even the light pollution from drilling rigs that is so obvious on a foggy or cloudy night, I look at how the economy here has been revitalized and, in that sense, I feel that the gas boom has been a blessing to the area. I would much rather see new businesses opening up and established businesses expanding than to watch the continual decline of an area that seemed terminally depressed just a decade ago. I enjoy overhearing people announce that one of their friends or family members just got a great new job or promotion rather than being laid off or struggling to piece together a living with several part-time jobs and no benefits. And the roads are getting better – much better.
This is not to negate the seriousness of tainted drinking water and claims of illnesses incurred in proximity to drilling operations, none of which have been independently linked to the industry nor acknowledged by the gas companies. It is for this reason that I cherish the professional relationships that I have established with anti-gas advocates. While some may dismiss their claims and say that they have “too much time on their hands,” I’m glad that they have more time to look into these situations than I do. Their public admonishment of elected officials and industry representatives can sometimes seem a bit harsh or a bit ill-advised, but I hope that they never stop watching and reporting everything about the industry that doesn’t appear to correspond to our ethics and our standard of living.
This series represents just the beginning of my active research into and reporting on the many facets of the drilling industry. It was a good start for me, and I hope that it served as a suitable primer to some of the readers who were yearning for a fresh approach to the gas boom as a historic event. What I learned is that I have so much more to learn. We all do.
Last week, I thanked the Keelers in my column about my first three months as news editor of the Rocket-Courier for supporting my efforts to settle back into the area. Only after the paper was published did I realize that I forgot to also give credit to an incredible staff that exhibits a measure of teamwork that I have rarely experienced in other jobs. Not only have most of the people here worked for Keeler Newspapers for more than a decade, their knowledge of each other’s jobs and how the entire paper is put together continues to make my transition so much more comfortable than it might have been. Nobody’s life is without challenges, but I appreciate the fact that the employees here leave their personal baggage at the door when they get here each day. I’m grateful to have been accepted into this new “family,” and I look forward to the day when I can extend the patience and courteousness that they have afforded to me to the employees that come behind me as the company continues to grow and evolve.