Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the sixth in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three, four and five).
MONTROSE, Pa.—Lynn Senick's cozy clapboard house is just steps away from state Highway 29, which basically serves as Montrose's Main Street.
Founded as a center for abolitionists in 1824 — its lore claims it harbored escaping slaves on the Underground Railroad — the county seat has a New England-quaint feel with a prominent town green bookended by a handsome county courthouse and a welcoming library.
Even though Montrose is nowhere near the beaten track, diligent and dedicated organizers put the town on the local map by drawing flocks of visitors to popular annual events such as the Fourth of July parade and festivals celebrating the apple and blueberry harvests, as well as the production of wine and chocolate.
Senick, who educates the public about hydraulic fracturing via an online forum she launched three years ago, is also affiliated with a local group called the Montrose Restoration Committee.
Committee volunteers have played off the success of Montrose's signature happenings by focusing on attracting and retaining an organic restaurant, book shop, health food store and farmers market. Several years prior, members of the organization had noticed their county's natural resources, hard by the New York State border, were attracting a different type of resident.
Vibrant young people intent on making their living off the land had started to migrate to this area with the nickname "Endless Mountains" that reflects its continuous up and down geography.
North-South Interstate 81, which roughly bisects the county, is the sole major highway, and the recent arrivals recognized their land and freshwater needs could be easily met in a county with a mere 43,000 people rattling around in 800 square miles. The largest population centers are Wilkes-Barre and Scranton, to the south, and Binghamton, N.Y., to the north.
Recognizing this influx, Susan Griffis McNamara started stocking organic seeds and other affiliated paraphernalia for these small-scale growers at the hardware store side of her business that has been in the family for four generations. Other merchants followed suit.
Now, however, Senick, McNamara and other committee members fear narrow rural roadways clogged with the never-ending grind of drilling-related trucks, and landscapes marred with gas wells, will be a turnoff to tourists and artisan farmers.
"I don't think this is going to be the quiet little tourist destination we thought it could be," says Senick, who works at the local food bank. "This is going to become an industrial town."
While she knows that some property owners will no doubt make money from their oil leases, she wonders how the have-nots she encounters daily will hang on as landlords realize they can raise their rent prices and offer accommodations to well-paid, out-of-town specialists employed by the gas exploration and drilling companies.
"Not everybody always got along here, but this was a stable community," Senick says. "But this has fractured our community. It has really tossed everybody's future into the air."
"They are going to drill to kingdom come and this is breaking my heart. I didn't move here to be embroiled in this. And now, not a day goes by that I don’t want to get in my car and get out of here."
Drill, Baby, Drill at What Cost?
With the Marcellus Shale well count growing to at least 2,500 statewide during the last six years — and thousands more on the way — it's little wonder that those leery of drilling feel they have been booted from their traditional Pennsylvania and plopped down in unfamiliar territory more akin to a mouthful such as PennTexLouisAhoma.
Knowing that natural gas now satisfies about one-fourth of the country's energy needs and that the powers that be are clamoring for more in the interest of national security has drilling opponents on edge.
Natural gas is touted as a "clean" fossil fuel because burning it releases about half the greenhouse gas emissions of coal. Hydraulic fracturing critics such as Cornell University scientist Robert Howarth have tried to poke holes in that widely accepted estimate with a study claiming that natural gas is filthier than coal because gas wells are leaking gigantic amounts of methane.
The gas industry and other researches have pretty much pooh-poohed Howarth's results and methodologies, and environmental organizations have raised their own sets of queries.
However, other environmental concerns with hydraulic fracturing have green groups focused on Pennsylvania speaking in unison.