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A useful post is now up at Boatrocker, which has the agenda, minutes and documents from the last meeting, and more info about Task Force members.

Well worth perusing if you want to be up on local developments for the May 10th meeting:

http://boatrocker.wordpress.com/2010/05/06/centre-county-natural-gas-task-force-info/

The first meeting of the full Centre County Natural Gas Task force has been scheduled for May 10 at 4 p.m. at the Bald Eagle Area High School Cafeteria.
Evidently there was an April 12 public meeting, which even some subcommittee members did not know about.
They will continue to discuss current legislation for taxing natural gas extraction in PA.  Road maintenance agreements will also be discussed at the upcoming meeting.
I think much more needs to be on the agenda, don’t you? How about local ordinances?

Laugh or cry?

The fact that gas will be extracted in Pennsylvania means absolutely nothing for whether local people will benefit from it. Let me repeat: It means nothing.

To understand why, you simply have to look at the history of oil, coal, and gas extraction. Are profits in fact distributed to the people who have to suffer the devastating side effects? Or do outsiders drain profits and leave messes behind?

We do have democratic processes that tip the scale one way or the other: appropriate taxes on mineral extraction, effective regulation, and public participation in decision making. These tools are our safeguards. When one of them is lacking, we see inequality and injustice grow: political, economic, environmental, social.

Here’s a paragraph from Elizabeth Burns, whose Rancho los Malulos contains stunning documentation of a historical legacy of irresponsible and exploitative resource extraction that continues into the present on the south Texas ranch where she lives:

No one cares if oil companies steal from large land owners. People think, “Well, they are large land owners, they deserve it.” What they don’t realize is that ExxonMobil, El Paso and Chevron are stealing much much more from poor people of South Texas. Read the court ruling. The poorest and sickest counties in the whole United States. Counties full of hungry, sad, disenfranchised folks, poisoned by PCB’s, mercury, lead, radioactive slag and contaminated ground water. (compliments of ExxonMobil, El Paso, and Chevron) In the words of Carl Richardson, (Enterprise Pipeline’s head landman) “The oil business has been kind to you. You have no right to complain.” Yes, the oil business has indeed been kind to South Texans. That is why we are the wealthiest and healthiest area in all of the USA. Go District 4!!

If oil and gas are in fact so great for the economy, why wouldn’t McKean and Warren counties be the greatest and most prosperous counties in all of Pennsylvania? Why wouldn’t Oklahoma and south Texas and Saudi Arabia and Nigeria be the greatest places to live in all the world?

The presence of mineral resources alone guarantees nothing. In fact, it can invite speculation, greed, exploitation.

Hear Ecuador’s  Alberto Acosta on Democracy Now discussing the gap between a richness in natural resources and the poverty that can accompany extractive practices.

The SEC permits oil and gas companies to book proved reserves as capital assets

A lot of people I’ve talked to have expressed concerns about their elected representatives getting contributions from oil and gas or personally benefitting from natural gas development.

Compounding the problem, a lot of communities have organized committees to deal with Marcellus development issues by appointing “stakeholders” to the boards. Instead of defining stakeholders as community members with long-term interests in the quality of life for all people in the area, these committees amplify the voices of those who would gain most from this development. When they do good work, they ask, how can we train workers for this new industry? How can we make this process go more smoothly?

But seldom do they ask, is this even good for our community at all?

In one recent example, Lehman Township in Luzerne County agreed to let EnCana begin Marcellus drilling in the township though some residents wanted their supervisors to vote no.

Only one of the supervisors could put forward the motion, because “two of the supervisors, Ide and Sutton, have personal ties to gas drilling. Ide leased some of his own land for gas drilling, and Sutton consults property owners concerning drilling.” The third member presented the motion, and the other two seconded it.

I highly recommend a blog post I stumbled on called “Gas Drilling, Conflict of Interests, and Lobbying.”

It focuses on New York law, but perhaps Pennsylvania has some similar guidelines? According to New York’s Commission on Public Integrity,

As a general matter, recusal  would be required if the facts and circumstances suggest that the subject trustee has a substantial, personal interest in the outcome of the BID budget vote.  Even the appearance of such an interest would require recusal, in order to maintain public confidence in  government.

This is a problem a lot of Pennsylvania communities need to address head on. Both of the lawyers the blogger consulted “strongly recommended that  the public should attend those local board meetings and ask each board member, on the record, to clarify the leased  status of their and their family’s  real property holdings.

Unanswered Questions About The Economic Impact of Gas Drilling In the Marcellus Shale: Don’t Jump to Conclusions

by Jannette M. Barth, Ph.D.

The paper was prepared for New York. Too bad no such report was available for Pennsylvania before drilling started. From the intro:

The studies used to support the claim that drilling will bring economic benefits to New
York are either biased, dated, seriously flawed, or simply not applicable to the region that
would be affected. Such studies are not a valid foundation on which to base legislative or
regulatory actions.

I also like the firm debunking of “An Emerging Giant: Prospects and Economic Impacts of Developing the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas Play,” aka “the Penn State study.” To wit:

The report is an exercise commissioned by the natural gas industry to try to prevent the State of Pennsylvania from imposing a severance tax on natural gas. An intelligent lawmaker should not take this study seriously.

Read the report