LOCK HAVEN - Drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale region, which includes Clinton County, should spur an economic boon, but it also must ensure the area's natural resources are kept intact, according to a representative from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
Dan Vilello, community revitalization consultant for DEP, addressed members of the Clinton County Economic Partnership on the impact the natural gas drilling will likely have on the region at the Partnership's meeting last night.
"If things play out like everyone thinks they will play out, there's the possibility of some very good economic news here," he said.
Vilello noted natural gas wells permitted in Clinton County increased from 14 in 2006 to 40 last year, with 35 permitted so far this year. Statewide, he said, 6,000 well permits have been issued, most in the western and central parts of the state, with another 2,000 expected by the end of the year.
However, gas company officials say DEP is holding up their operations.
Vilello said a drilling company must receive a drilling permit, an erosion and sediment control plan, a water management plan and approval from the Susquehanna River Basin Commission.
"There's no doubt about it, there's a lot of hurdles involved," he said.
But Vilello said those hurdles are in place for a good reason to ensure the state's natural resources, especially its high-quality waterways- are unharmed.
"We have the streams to a point that we're now very proud of them and we want to keep them that way," he said.
One big hurdle, Vilello said, is the treatment of salty wastewater from drilling operations and there are not many plants certified to treat it. The saltiness of the wastewater would ultimately shut a normal sewage treatment plant down, he said.
Commissioner Adam Coleman, also a member of the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania's task force on natural gas drilling, said he was at a symposium Wednesday in Wilkes-Barre, where officials from four drilling companies said, "If something doesn't change they're going to write off the money they spent on leases and go out of state."
Coleman said the firm don't believe their getting adequate cooperation from DEP.
Partnership member Dan Harger said the drilling operations will have a "very big impact" on the region's economy and he urged the state to bring in experts from across the nation who are experienced with the issue to help.
Jim Ladlee, director of the Penn State Cooperative Extension Office near Lamar, reminded CCEP members that, while there likely will be a significant economic boon, the community will need to address the associated results: more children in area schools, more trips for emergency personnel and much more traveling over the county's roads.
He also tempered words from Coleman, saying he believes the natural gas companies will stay in the state, "or they wouldn't be spending money here."