By Ann Pinca
Laporte, Pa. - A MarcellusByDesign workshop held December 4 in the courtroom of the Sullivan County Courthouse fell far short of the expectations of many looking for an opportunity for real discussion and public input on the physical impacts of natural gas development.
Presented by landscape architecture professors and students from Penn State University, the workshop was a component of a larger National Science Foundation (NSF) grant project, "Marcellus Matters: Engaging Adults in Science and Energy," under the direction of Michael Arthur, professor of geosciences and co-director of the Marcellus Center for Outreach and Research (MCOR). The stated goals of the workshop were:
Brian Orland, Director of Interdisciplinary Programs, a
nd Timothy Murtha, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, were the
facilitators for the workshop, aided by twelve undergraduate students and one graduate student. The program consisted of individual student presentations and three break-out sessions incorporating hands-on activities.
Student presentations included many topics, and to their credit, the students' work reflected that they had invested much time, effort, and creativity to the problems selected to solve in terms of landscape architecture. Topics ranged from strategies to protect ridgeline views and reduction of visual impacts of infrastructure to storm water run-off prevention. Included were a few promising sustainability measures the county could better use to avoid the inevitable boom and bust cycle that natural gas development will bring.
But most presentations were about cosmetic fixes, and simply disguising industrial infrastructure is not what people concerned about health impacts from pollution are concerned about. A less visible compressor station or condensate tank disguised by camouflage-type painting may better blend in with the landscape, but does not in any way reduce its impact: it is still there and so is the pollution.
Likewise, other student projects on pipeline placement and mitigation techniques that may lessen the overall visual effect of pipeline corridors
still do not take away the very real problems of forest fragmentation or
the species population isolation, stream chemistry changes, edge
habitat and invasive species problems that the hundreds of miles of pipeline anticipated for Sullivan County will bring.
Hands-on break-out sessions included to allow public input were troubling. Designed mainly to rate or rank areas of the county most important to protect, the activities forced participants into a "Sophie's Choice" situation, making them choose which area to save and which to condemn to industrial destruction.
The only redeeming feature of the hands-on activities was direct interaction with the students. They appreciated hearing the concerns of the citizens to provide a better understanding, since, as one student said, "We don't live here." While encouraging to know that college students are at least looking into the problems facing citizens in rural areas of gas development, it can only be hoped that they understand the real issues, even through the lens of a landscape architecture class.
In the end, there seemed little presented at this workshop to assuage the worries of those in Sullivan County faced with the infliction of an aggressive, pollutant industry on the rural beauty of their homeland, other than that the damages might be covered up through landscaping visual tricks. Suggestions that the oil and gas industry will cooperate with landowners in infrastructure placement and design as suggested in this workshop seem unlikely, especially since most would include added costs.
Sadly, the likely reality seems more "business as usual," like what came up shortly after the workshop at the county planning meeting, when a resident asked if there was anything known about the placement of a particular gathering line and no one could answer his question. He just wondered, he said, since the actual location had been under dispute for some time and
was now staked out across his front lawn--and the pipeline crew had been there working on it that morning.
ALL IMAGES: ANN PINCA
But most presentations were about cosmetic fixes, and simply disguising industrial infrastructure is not what people concerned about health impacts from pollution are concerned about. A less visible compressor station or condensate tank disguised by camouflage-type painting may better blend in with the landscape, but does not in any way reduce its impact: it is still there and so is the pollution. *Cadaver cosmetics!
"the inevitable boom" *Who decided that this was inevitable? Tom Corbett, Ed Rendell, or some corporate hack from Texas who has no vested interest or personal attachment to Pennsylvania?
"The only redeeming feature of the hands-on activities was direct interaction with the students. They appreciated hearing the concerns of the citizens to provide a better understanding, since, as one student said, 'We don't live here.'" *The students admitted they were unaware of, and not at all informed of the negative public health, safety and environmental issues. Fortunately, they agreed that the health and environmental concerns should take precedent over the 'cosmetics' and were eager to learn more. Many of them asked for links to organizations, citizen groups, and reports on these more serious issues, and asked to have access to the findings of the Sullivan County Listening Project that is already underway and should be completed and made publicly available by March 2014.
"Sadly, the likely reality seems more "business as usual," like what came up shortly after the workshop at the county planning meeting, when a resident asked if there was anything known about the placement of a particular gathering line and no one could answer his question. He just wondered, he said, since the actual location had been under dispute for some time and was now staked out across his front lawn--and the pipeline crew had been there working on it that morning." *Still no evidence of transparency and co-operation from this industry.
The answers are quite simple:
1) To address these other very real concerns would be an admission by the industry and their political cheerleaders that these issues are real.
2) The industry needs to distract from, and downplay these issues because there really is no remedy for them.
3) Research programs at all institutes of higher learning rely on "outside funding" from the corporate world, and the oil and gas corporations are not going to fund colleges, universities, or research programs that are counterproductive to their "bottom line", or that may cause their shareholder investment to drop-off.
Now, if this was a true and honest presentation that actually dealt with the truly substantive issues of unconventional gas development, these are the questions that would, and should have been addressed, and must be addressed:
- How the hell are you going to assure desirable forest regeneration when you are creating edge habitat EVERYWHERE!!!!! (all trees are not created equal).
- How are you going to correct the problem with nutrient loading of streams after you cut down "only 2%" of the forest? We are not talking about sediment and erosion - we are talking about changes in stream chemistry when they change deep forest into open field.
- How are you going to maintain viable populations of interior forest dwelling critters like neotropical migrants and amphibians?
- How are you going to prevent population isolation and genetic inbreeding from critters that avoid road and ROW crossings due to predation threat and moisture gradients?
- How are you going to provide for viable corridors for wildlife migration when you are creating a grid of pads, roads, and pipeline ROW's?
- Why are you trying to convince us that ubiquitous species - species that exist everywhere due to human disturbance (deer, raccoons, groundhogs) are a fair exchange for deep forest species?
-What is your restoration plan for interior forest, what is the timeframe and where is the funding source?
- Never mind "beautification" - How the HELL are you going to assure the forest structure and function - the very ecosystem services that drive our economy are going to remain viable!!!
- Is Penn State, the DCNR, or the gas industry going to control invasive species along all this new edge habitat for the LIFE of the OPENING???
- Who is going to pay me to control the invasive species on my property when it migrates off your damn pipeline ROW???
- Mr. Penn State LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT - how are you qualified to address forest sustainability issues? Or is your job just to "greenwash" i.e. throw green paint on a building riddled with termites?
- What about the impact on climate change/climate instability that increased methane leakage and our continued use of fossil fuels?
THESE PEOPLE WHO CONDUCT THESE PRESENTATIONS ARE MOCKING US ALL WITH THIS PATHETIC ATTEMPT AT PLACATION. WE HAVE JUST CALL TO BE ANGRY AND REFUSE TO AQUIESE OR ACCEPT WHAT IS CLEARLY AN INSULT TO OUR COLLECTIVE INTELLIGENCE!!!
I brought up some of these issues at the PSU/MBD presentation, and although Prof. Orland conceded that my questions and concerns were indeed legitimate, and did not, or could not dispute them, he respectfully reminded me that the focus was on the "visual impacts".
Therefore, I challenge PSU, the Sullivan County Energy Task Force, the Sullivan County Planning Commission, and our local elected officials to hold public presentations that specifically address the very real issues, concerns, and questions I've put forth in this email, if they are to maintain any credibility.
I shall continue to push these issues via email listserves, social media forums, affiliated organization websites, and at upcoming political debates until they are thoroughly and adequately publicly addressed.
Shale Justice Coalition
*Contribution by Kevin Heatley
Bio-habitat Restoration Expert