If a tree falls in the woods, but no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? How about a truck?
A South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling (SHAADD) group member has reported observing at least one vehicle from the natural-gas drilling company Chesapeake Energy on South Hills Country Club property in recent weeks, but no one else has reported that activity. And according to South Hills C.C. officials, that SHAADD member is mistaken.
After hearing SHAADD member Sarah Scholl speak on behalf of her community group at a Whitehall Borough council meeting on Wednesday night, council President William J. Veith said that he has spoken with country club officials and that those officials are denying that Chesapeake vehicles have been on their property.
The presence of vehicles that some club members use to haul firewood away from the property may have been what the SHAADD member saw, Veith said as a way of relaying information that he received from club officials.
Scholl said that an unnamed SHAADD member reported seeing at least one Chesapeake vehicle on the country club's property bordering Echo Glen and Country Club drives on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 5. The type of the alleged vehicle is not known, but its presence at the South Hills C.C. would not come as a complete surprise.
In 2008, the club leased part of its land for natural-gas drilling, and with the recent passing of a joint bill by the Pennsylvania Legislature that amends the state's Oil and Gas Act to allow drilling in all municipal zones, the timing is right for drilling at the club in the near future.
Wednesday's appearance in front of the Whitehall Council marked the latest attempt by SHAADD to draw attention to the South Hills C.C.'s decision to welcome natural-gas drilling in Whitehall. In August 2011, SHAADD scorned the country club with a public letter over the club's decision.
"We ... are concerned and disappointed to learn that the South Hills Country Club chose to lease its land for the disruptive and potentially dangerous process known as high-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing," the letter reads. "Whitehall residents may disagree in their opinions about the issue of Marcellus Shale gas extraction in Pennsylvania broadly, but we doubt that many of them would agree that there should be a large industrial site right in the middle of our community with the potential for accidents, pollution, illness and damage."
High-volume slickwater hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," is a controversial component of the drilling of natural gas, including gas extracted from the Marcellus Shale foundation found thousands of feet below sea level throughout Pennsylvania. The 2010 documentary GasLand, which was screened in the Whitehall Borough Community Room in June 2011, links fracking to dangerous levels of pollution.
Numerous Whitehall officials shared SHAADD's concerns on Wednesday night over what gas drilling could mean for borough residents.
"We (council members) feel the same (as SHAADD does)," Councilman Philip Lahr said. "You have to remember: We may be elected officials, but we're residents, too ... I know no one here wants that (drilling in the borough). We fought not to do it (allow drilling). We did it in the best manner we could do it (limiting it to certain areas)."
Lahr was referring to the Whitehall Council's decision to combat natural-gas drilling in its borough through the enforcement of a limited-areas allowance rather than an outright ban—like the Baldwin Borough Council passed in June.
Mayor James F. Nowalk said that the Whitehall Council felt that an outright ban would be harder to uphold in court than would a limited-area ordinance. (The state's newly amended Oil and Gas Act will allow for the drilling anyway.)
Officials like Nowalk would be happier if natural-gas drilling never comes to Whitehall. While the mayor acknowledged that gas drilling might be welcomed by residents of many areas of Pennsylvania, he said that it is not suitable for heavily populated areas like Whitehall.
"It doesn't belong around here," Nowalk said, opining that people come to live in Whitehall under the assumption that they will enjoy a residential, not industrial, atmosphere.
But council member Glenn Nagy said that he does not see natural-gas drilling coming to Whitehall anytime soon.
"To offer any hope or consolation," Nagy said, "because there is support (for drilling) in the rural areas, that's where they (drilling companies) want to drill. They really want the low-hanging fruit.
"I'm not saying that'll be (that way) forever, but just think of the obstacles they would face (in areas like Whitehall). Those (drilling) vehicles are huge. I'm an insurance adjuster; I've seen them. They don't want to be running those on neighborhood streets when they could be running them out on these two-lanes out in the country.
" ... I just don't see them wanting to be in these urban areas in the near future at all."
Check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's council meeting.
How do you feel about the potential of natural-gas drilling at the South Hills Country Club? In general? Tell us in the comments section below.
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