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Dan Hust | Democrat

While people around her applauded speakers at Wednesday’s press conference in Narrowsburg, Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance Executive Director Marian Schweighofer (in the center with her glasses on top of her head) drew cameras in her direction as she engaged in an intense debate over the merits of gas drilling.

National group lists Delaware as ‘most endangered’ in U.S.

By Dan Hust
NARROWSBURG — June 4, 2010 — The Delaware River was put at the top of the “Most Endangered” list this week by American Rivers, a non-profit environmental advocacy group.
The threat, said the organization, is the imminent arrival of gas drilling.
A press conference about it on Wednesday attracted a sizable crowd to Narrowsburg’s riverfront gazebo, including Congressman Maurice Hinchey and Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River Superintendent Sean McGuinness.
The event also brought out a variety of locals supporting gas drilling, including Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance members who angrily interrupted various speakers – only to be shouted down by the much larger array of those opposed to drilling.
Back-and-forth yelling and threats continued by both sides until the pro-drillers moved a few yards away to argue their case with a smattering of anti-drillers.
Even then, passionate debate at one point literally spilled over into water being thrown at a couple of anti-drilling proponents, a sign of how deeply divisive this issue has become to riverside communities.
But the tussles did not deter the speakers, who agreed with American Rivers that the Delaware may be facing grave threats to its pristine and attractive water.
“Today, shale gas extraction trumps environmental safety,” warned Bruce Ferguson of the Callicoon Center-based Catskill Citizens for Safe Energy. “... We’ve been betrayed by our state agencies and federal government.”
That didn’t, however, apply to Hinchey, who was hailed by onlookers for his support of the FRAC Act, which seeks to put gas companies back under the mantles of the Safe Drinking Water and Clean Air acts, from which they are now exempt.
“I really love coming here,” Hinchey admitted amidst the noonday splendor of downtown Narrowsburg.
He cited the ongoing oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, noting that it’s not too late to prevent similar environmental contamination by gas companies in northeast Pa. and upstate NY, the latter of which he represents.
At the very least, he said, drillers need to disclose any chemicals they use in the mixture injected underground to break and hold apart (hydrofracture) the shale trapping natural gas.
“Let’s not have secrets about what’s being put into the ground,” he said to cheers from the crowd.
McGuinness, who oversees the National Park Service’s operations along 73 miles of the upper Delaware, promised his agency “will do everything we can for what’s right for this river.”
Ramsay Adams, executive director of the Youngsville-based Catskill Mountainkeeper, was glad to hear it.
“The crown jewel of the Catskills is the upper Delaware River,” he told the crowd, calling it an “irreplaceable resource.”
He envisioned two scenarios: one where drilling is kept at bay, and one where it arrives and becomes “a Shakesperean tragedy ... where the upper Delaware River becomes our Gulf coast.”
“That version is a crime story,” he added.
So expect an increasingly forceful approach from those opposed to gas drilling, he promised.
“If we decide to get along by going along, we will lose the Delaware,” Adams warned.
American Rivers, which is headquartered in Washington, D.C., listed 10 rivers across the country it said are threatened by a variety of issues. One other Pennsylvania river – the Monongahela – was on the list because of gas drilling, though it came in at #9.
“Rivers are selected based upon the following criteria: a major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action; the significance of the threat to human and natural communities; and the degree to which the proposed action would exacerbate or alleviate stresses caused by climate change,” said press material from American Rivers, deeming the listings as “a call to action.”
Specifically, American Rivers wants a thorough environmental impact study to be done before drilling is allowed to commence in the Delaware’s watershed.
But for many of the locals at the press conference, it’s also about stopping drilling and what they fear will be deeply negative traffic, noise, environmental and quality-of-life impacts.
“Do we allow the forces of selfishness and greed ... to plunder our very source of life?” asked Marcia Nehemiah of Damascus Citizens for Sustainability, which sponsored Wednesday’s gathering. “This is truly a watershed moment.”
* * *
There was no formal opposing stance offered at the press conference, but the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance did release a statement on behalf of its 1,300 members and 70,000 already-leased acres in Wayne County, Pa.
“The Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance (NWPOA) strongly supports protecting the Delaware River, along with other actions that help our community and its environment,” said the release. “... NWPOA, however, believes that allowing responsible gas exploration to proceed in the watershed is actually the surest way to protect the river and its extraordinary scenery and water quality.”
NWPOA argued that without drilling, large tracts of land may be sold for housing developments or factories.
“Widespread conversion of agricultural land to industrial and residential use would be harmful to both the communities and the environment,” said the release.

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