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Dan Hust | Democrat

The county's third and final forum on gas drilling featured speakers with on-the-ground experience in Pennsylvania.

Different outcomes

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — August 27, 2010 — August 19’s third and final county-sponsored forum on gas drilling featured three speakers with on-the-ground experience in Pennsylvania.
The legacy of Dimock
Craig Sautner of Dimock, PA, began his portion of the forum with a bleak assessment.
“Our property is worthless,” he said. “We can’t sell our house.”
According to Sautner and his wife Julie, that’s because the drilling company with which he signed a lease ended up accidentally contaminating his water well.
Julie Sautner said a number of houses near them remain for sale, as well.
“We’re living in a wellfield,” she told the crowd – 70 wells in a nine-square-mile area.
Dimock has become infamous for having a number of families affected by the Cabot gas company’s contamination of drinking water, among other issues.
Cabot now provides fresh drinking water for free via daily deliveries to the 33 affected homes, according to the couple.
Yet the Sautners focused only a little on the jug of dirty water they brought with them from their well.
“If they [drillers] do tell you you’re going to get a lot, don’t believe them,” Craig Sautner said. “... We’re here just to educate people on what could happen to you if things go wrong.”
More non-locals than locals got jobs, they said, and roads were rutted up to a foot deep by drilling trucks’ repeated trips.
Venting brine tanks have fouled the air, according to the couple, making even visiting reporters complain of sore throats.
“We do believe it’s going to help the medical business,” Craig dryly related, “because a lot of people are getting sick.”
The local school leased land for two wells to be drilled and is receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in payments, said Craig – yet his school taxes still went up this year.
They acknowledged that some locals, especially large landowners, have benefitted, but Craig worried the lack of fresh water will one day turn Dimock into a ghost town.
That’s one of the reasons he’s in favor of a severance tax that goes directly to local communities (not to the state, as currently proposed by lawmakers).
“Don’t go after the taxpayers to clean up the mess,” he remarked, to audience applause.
Positive experiences in Bradford County, PA
Another speaker, Anthony Ventello, brought with him his experiences from Bradford County, PA, where drilling has taken off, and a visit to the more mature Barnett Shale play in Texas.
“Everything you’re all concerned about is what we tried to uncover,” he told the audience.
Currently the 17-year executive director of the Progress Authority in Towanda, PA, Ventello is a planner by trade and sits on the Bradford County Natural Gas Advisory Committee.
He and others of that committee travelled to Texas and found that Bradford County may be better positioned for this industry than Texas or Oklahoma.
“Unlike Texas and Oklahoma, we have a lot of water,” he said, referencing the resource necessary to frack gas wells.
Plus the gas is more “thermally mature” in the Marcellus Shale, he related.
“The gas is 98 percent methane,” Ventello explained. “... It’s pure, it’s pipeline-ready.”
Furthermore, several major gas pipelines already run through the area (including Sullivan County), which feed directly into the country’s largest market for natural gas: New York City.
And even greater oil and gas reserves, yet to be explored, may exist underneath the Marcellus, he related.
In the meantime, with 1,000 wells set to be drilled by 2010’s end, Ventello said Bradford County’s communities are seeing their tax bases expand, their non-profits deluged with donations from gas companies and wealthy leaseholders, and hundreds of local jobs created.
In fact, the county government itself has had to replace a number of officials who went to work for the gas companies thanks to more lucrative pay.
Chesapeake, the largest drilling company active in the county, has taken over an abandoned department store for its headquarters, and it, along with other drillers, recently sponsored a business-to-business expo to link drillers with local companies providing needed services.
A jeweler who was facing closure has now seen a boom, said Ventello, thanks to rising sales which include a drilling rig necklace she designed.
“Bradford County now this year leads the entire state of Pennsylvania in creating new jobs,” he related with some astonishment.
As for road damage, Ventello explained that the gas companies “are rebuilding these roads better than when they were started.”
And for some of the main roads through town, properties with frontage are going for $40,000-$50,000 an acre, he said.
“The bigger issue is, how do you appraise properties [used for drilling and/or by drillers] in the long-term?” he wondered.
Fears of a real-estate market collapse were unfounded, he added.
“What was a stagnant residential market has become more vibrant,” Ventello explained.
Water, too, has increased in value. The companies pay much more for access to municipal water supplies than other business and residential users, said Ventello, even being charged to remove water from the Susquehanna River.
Not that everything is rosy. While Ventello wasn’t sure about crime statistics, he said car accidents have definitely increased due to the extra traffic on the roads.
And he urged areas facing drilling to ensure their communities stay or become diversified economically, acknowledging that the day will come when the gas is gone and drillers leave town.
In the meantime, he agreed with Craig Sautner that the state needs to hold drillers accountable to follow regulations.
“All the variables are in place to do it properly,” Ventello remarked. “It depends on the gas company.”
For more information and the complete webcast of this and the other two forums, visit Sullivan County’s website at

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