CADIZ - Commissioner Don Bethel is on a mission to keep the county safe during the upcoming Marcellus Shale gas drilling boom that is about to get under way in Harrison County.
"We met with gas and oil drilling companies last week," Bethel said. "Drilling is in our near future."
"The role of the Harrison County Commissioners so far in this is to provide information to citizens about what they can expect and help plan for what we expect is coming along with the shale drilling," said Bethel during Wednesday's meeting. "But I believe our role is also to protect."
"We are looking at what we can do, as commissioners, to assert our right to safeguard our communities and protect our way of life, now and for our future," Bethel stated. "This is a perfect example of one of those times where you need to rely on government to protect you."
Today, there are hundreds of Marcellus operations in nearby Pennsylvania and West Virginia. The commissioners have been visiting communities in Pennsylvania and listening to their county government officials as they struggle to deal with the profound changes occurring to them.
Throughout Pennsylvania, there are allegations that water supplies are being tainted by hydraulic fracturing and complaints of a lack of state-level oversight.
"There are two disposal wells in Carroll County and one in Belmont County that we know of," explained Bethel. "At this time I do not believe the gas companies have any obligation to notify local government if they are drilling injection wells on private property within the county."
"I have attended gas drilling seminars and have been to a working drilling operation. I have seen the technology and process presented in detail, and was assured that this method would be safe," Bethel said in an interview following the meeting. "There are news stories about homeowners who can't use their water at all, now having to use water from "water buffaloes" - giant above-ground tanks filled with water from somewhere else."
"If I relied on well water, I would be nervous. I am not saying that will happen here, but I think it is wise for rural land owners to have their wells tested by an independent firm before the drilling starts," Bethel advised. "Currently the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) has given their approval to put in these injection wells, so we currently cannot rely on them to fall back on."
"The impacts of this drilling practice have proven to be beyond imagination in Pennsylvania. The character of communities is being forever changed," Bethel said. "This is about much more than water. This is about what we need to address as leaders to preserve our communities for 20 years down the road when the gas companies pull up and leave."
In related business the commissioners approved two road use agreements for drilling. Agreement 15-12 with Markwest Liberty Midstream for 3 miles of CR 29 and 16-12 with Chesapeake Exploration for 0.3 miles of CR 15a.
In other business: Treasurer Vicki Sefsick told commissioners that some 320 letters had been sent to manufactured home owners who are delinquent on their taxes. The letter explains that the Treasurer's office has given a short grace period for accounts past due to contact their office before before turning over the information to the prosecutor's office.
"The response has been good so far," said Sefsick. "We are not asking for all of the money in one lump sum. We are willing to work with the home owners to set up a payment schedule. They do, however, need to contact us to avoid possible prosecution."
The commissioners approved expenditure adjustments for the health department moving $7,582.76 from the salary line item into other accounts. The board also approved a transfer of $50,000 into a new line item for Developmental Disabilities for Capital Improvements.
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