I can see both sides. But I can’t see taking the gas companies’ word that they won’t pollute the water supply:
What is unfolding here is a mammoth clash between neighbors with starkly contrasting visions about the land. It is a virtual range war, waged at public meetings and on the Internet, expressed mostly in insults but occasionally through small acts of vandalism.
Last month, the Delaware River Basin Commission, a multistate agency based in Trenton, declared a moratorium on drilling any gas wells in the upper Delaware watershed – even nonproducing exploratory wells – until it can approve new drilling regulations.
The reason: These rural highlands drain into the protected waters of the upper Delaware River.
Though the DRBC maintains that it is not opposed to the “appropriate development” of natural gas, many landowners here who have signed gas leases regard the commission’s move as a stealth ban, an intrusion by unelected out-of-state officials to deprive them of their property.
“The DRBC is trying to take something away from me,” said Bob Rutledge, whose 500-acre farm has been in his family since the 1800s. “This is America. We still own mineral rights.”
But local residents who believe that gas drilling poses an imminent health threat applauded the DRBC’s action.
“We have property rights, too,” said James Barth, who owns 20 acres in Berlin Township, surrounded by neighbors who have leased their land for gas drilling.
At its root, the battle here is kind of a red state/blue state conflict – a cultural chasm dividing newcomers, old-timers, and those with opposing economic interests.
Wayne County is in New York City’s ever-expanding orbit – the population has increased 28 percent in two decades, to 51,337 – and many new homeowners were attracted to the sublime upper reaches of the Delaware, designated a national scenic and recreational river.
“We have our little islands of serenity,” said Barbara Arrindell, a stained-glass artist and executive director of the anti-drilling group Damascus Citizens for Sustainability.
Since it was founded two years ago, Damascus Citizens has developed some clout. Its urbanized, media-savvy leadership has enlisted allies in New York City and Philadelphia, portraying natural gas as Armageddon for public drinking-water supplies.
Thanks partly to the lobbying effort of Damascus Citizens, the national advocacy group American Rivers last month named the upper Delaware the nation’s “most endangered” river.
The organization’s voice was further amplified last month by the HBO premiere of Gasland , a documentary by New York filmmaker Josh Fox, who vacationed as a youth at his family’s cabin in Damascus Township. Fox dedicated the movie to Damascus Citizens.
John Hanger, secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, called Gasland “fundamentally dishonest.” But the soft-spoken Arrindell, who is credited in the film as a consultant, said it was an accurate reflection of her views, as well as those of her passionate colleagues.
Pat Carullo, a Staten Island, N.Y., native who moved to Wayne County after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, goes crimson with rage at the mention of hydraulic fracturing, the extraction technique that involves huge injections of water, chemicals, and sand deep into a well. He compares it to the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
“Look at the gulf!” shouted Carullo, a Damascus Citizens cofounder who speaks in high-volume sound bites. “We’re fighting for our lives here! Look at my hands. They’re shaking! It’s no game here!”