CHC in the press!

Coalition forms on drilling issues

By SAM KUSIC | Posted: Tuesday, June 14, 2011 3:00 am

The loose knot tying a group of people opposed to shale-gas drilling around Indiana County parks is being pulled tighter.

The group is coalescing into a more organized entity, with established leadership, an online presence and a singular goal — the adoption of a county zoning ordinance prohibiting deep shale-gas drilling in conservation zones ringing county parks.

While members of the group, which has named itself the Coalition for a Healthy County, have said they recognize the need for energy development and are not opposed to shale-gas drilling entirely, they are opposed to drilling and the hydrofracturing process that follows it in the conservation zones.

The parks are special places in the county, they say, providing recreation and drinking water to thousands, and need to be protected from industrial encroachment and possible contamination.

Coordinating the coalition is 36-year-old Indiana Borough resident Gerald Smith, who has become one of the lead voices against Kittanning-based MDS Energy Ltd.’s plan to drill a Marcellus shale well about 2,400 feet off the northern shore of Yellow Creek Lake in Yellow Creek State Park, the issue that brought the coalition together in the first place.

The company’s plan remains on hold, as the Indiana County Zoning Hearing Board recently rejected its application for a special use permit, which is needed to drill the well at its chosen location.

As it is, oil and gas wells may be drilled — with the board’s approval — in the conservation zones, which are laid out under the county’s Special Recreation and Conservation Zoning Ordinance. The ordinance protects an estimated 15,576 acres in and around Yellow Creek State Park, Pine Ridge Park, Hemlock Lake Park and Blue Spruce Park.

The ordinance, however, was written in the 1970s, well before deep shale-gas drilling was on the horizon, and is insufficient to protect parks, according to the coalition. So it is asking commissioners to revise the ordinance. To that end, they have started an online petition at and so far have 157 signatures.

The coalition also has been establishing relationships with other environmental groups, such as the Friends of Yellow Creek, Friends of White’s Woods, PennEnvironment and the Sierra Club.

Smith, who also is a member of the Indiana County Natural Gas Task Force, said he believes commissioners are sincerely interested in taking a look at the ordinance.

“But I don’t think they’re in much of a hurry,” he said. “I also don’t think they would be doing anything at all if it wasn’t for our coalition hounding them about it over the past couple weeks.”

The coalition will have an informational table set up this evening at an event called Waltz for the Wild. Organized by local folk band Cornsilk, the waltz takes place from 7 to 10 p.m. at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s College Lodge. The band and a few other local musicians will perform. And other environmental groups will have informational tables set up.

“We just wanted a chance to get environmental groups together and talk about the Marcellus shale issue,” said Susan Wheatley, a member of the band and the coalition.

Admission is free.


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