Strength in numbers
May 12, 2011
For decades, gas and oil companies have enjoyed seemingly unshakeable influence over policy and politicians. So it s nice to think that they might be paying attention to recent events, in which citizens have spoken so loudly and clearly that decisionmakers have been forced to listen.
Yesterday, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC) voted unanimously to temporarily table a request by XTO Energy (ExxonMobil Corp.) to withdraw 250,000 gallons of water a day from a stream in Broome County, NY known for its unique trout habitat. It wasn t a full meeting agenda that did it but the receipt of over 7,000 emails and hundreds of letters in just over a week from residents and organizations across the region, thanks to an outreach push by Delaware Riverkeeper Network and its allies.
The key argument made was that issuing the permit would be premature and risky given the current moratorium on drilling permits in the Basin and work now underway to assess the impacts of gas development, including water withdrawal. Hopefully the commissioners will ultimately heed this logic; they'll certainly have another chance to hear it from more residents because they did agree to another citizen ask: to hold a public hearing on the application in the area that would be most impacted by the withdrawal.
This success followed on the heels of the reversal by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection of a recent policy to require political appointees to approve gas drilling-related enforcement actions and issuance of violations. The change came after public outcry over the weakening of enforcement measures at a time when accidents and health impacts are mounting and a well-publicized letter objecting to the policy signed by over 40 organizations.
The public was also heard in Harrisburg, PA in late April during a meeting of Governor Corbett s gas industry-stacked Marcellus Shale Commission, in protest of the lack of citizen input and sidelining of pubic health and air and water quality concerns in the Commission s work. The turnout both at the Commission meeting and on the street outside forced officials to extend the public comment period so that dozens of citizens and representatives of community, labor, and environmental organizations could speak.
There s always been strength in numbers, and the number of people crying foul over the rush to drill is growing every day. And their voices won t be diminished by anything less than political interests and industry profits giving way to the protection of communities, health, and the environment.