The Mountain Watershed Association and the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at the University of Pittsburgh recently announced the formal kickoff of a new initiative called the “Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project.”
The project has been designed to provide citizens with tools and knowledge to responsibly monitor Marcellus shale development to aid in community and environmental protection.
“While the (state) Department of Environmental Protection has increased inspection and enforcement, it’s impossible for their inspectors to be everywhere at once,” said Veronica Coptis, the association’s community organizer. “Citizens can play a very important role in monitoring Marcellus development and our trainings give citizens the tools necessary to safely and effectively provide oversight.”
Participants will receive visual assessment training which provides information on monitoring Marcellus shale development. They will learn to use their senses of sight, hearing and smell to identify potential issues resulting from drilling operations. This approach is unique because no technical equipment is necessary.
The data gathered through this process will then be uploaded using simple online forms which are eventually integrated into FracTracker, an interactive data platform providing citizens with a common place to learn about and share information on Marcellus shale gas operations.
The training also provides information on permitting and regulations, air and water pollution, the use of FracTracker, filing a complaint and safety.
“Our goal is to have another layer of supervision to discourage the industry from cutting corners to make more profit,” Coptis said. “All of the regulations are put in place to protect the environment and those who live near the wells. Any time a regulation is broken, it adds more risk to the environment and the safety of the community.”
After completing this basic training, participants will have the opportunity to sign up for further instruction in air and/or water monitoring.
For a small fee, those who receive the additional training can purchase meters to monitor streams of concern. In the future the group hopes to also be able to offer air monitors, as well.
While much concern has been expressed about the possible affects the drilling has on water sources, air pollution is also an issue.
Coptis said program participants will be trained to be aware of certain odors at drilling sites.
“Certain air toxins have certain smells others do not,” she said. “A rotten egg smell can indicate hydrogen sulfide, which is very toxic in certain levels.”
The project, now being piloted in the Youghiogheny River watershed, is expected to spread throughout the southwestern Pennsylvania region.
Partner organizations on the program include the Clean Water Action, Group Against Smog and Pollution, Three Rivers Waterkeeper, PennEnvironment and the Fayette County Conservation District.
“The natural gas extraction industry is complicated and sophisticated. We believe that citizens concerned about the well-being of their environment will benefit from the visual assessment training,” said Charles Christen, director of operations at the Center for Healthy Environments and Communities. “Having an informed public is good public health and we are happy to be working with the Mountain Watershed (Association) on this project.”
One of the biggest concerns is the possibility of illegal dumping of the waste water into streams, especially in rural areas.
“Much of our region is very rural. No one knows our landscape and our streams better than the people who live here, and no one has a more vested interest in their preservation,” said Krissy Kasserman, Youghiogheny Riverkeeper with the Mountain Watershed Association. “If area residents are vigilant our natural amenities will have an additional layer of protection as drilling proceeds.”
Over 60 people attended the first Visual Assessment Training held last month in Washington, Pa.
Trainings are being offered throughout the Youghiogheny River watershed and the larger Southwestern Pennsylvania region. The next training is scheduled in Somerset on Feb. 24 at the Quality Inn & Conference Center from 6 to 9 p.m. An additional training will be held March 24 from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 700 W. Main St., Uniontown.
Dates are yet to be determined for trainings planned for Westmoreland County in April and Allegheny County in May.
For more information, about the Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project or to inquire about scheduling training in your county, please visit www.mtwatershed.com or contact Coptis at 724-455-4200.