During the citizens request portion of a council meeting on Wednesday night, Sarah Scholl was the first to address the council and an audience of nearly 20 community members on behalf of South Hills Area Against Dangerous Drilling (SHAADD).
As a Whitehall resident, Scholl expressed concerns about hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," in the borough and the potentially detrimental effects that it could have on the quality of local air, water, soil and property values.
"There's not a single representative at the state level who is taking a strong stance against this," she said. "It's presumed to be inevitable."
SHAADD was formed in June 2011, and its members want to make sure that Whitehall has the best possible means to prevent fracking in its community. Scholl is asking the Whitehall Council to consider strengthening its borough's municipal code to further protect residents.
An ordinance has already been passed by the Whitehall Council that allows certain areas of the borough—including land—to be used for natural-gas drilling, of which hydraulic fracturing is a step in the process. And the South Hills Country Club has leased part of its property to Chesapeake Energy for oil and gas rights 4,500 feet below the country club's land surface.
SHAADD's Jason Coll expressed serious concern since his home is very close to the country club. Coll has young children that often play outside.
Coll asked questions of the Whitehall Council on Wednesday regarding whether or not the borough's emergency personnel have been trained in how to handle hazardous gas situations. Coll also asked the council about how it plans to regulate heavy vehicles traveling on local roads.
Aaron Booz, also a member of SHAADD, pointed out that nine nearby municipalities have banned fracking, including next-door neighbor .
“We're not coming here angrily tonight," Booz said. "We appreciate that you understand our concern with drilling."
Some of the members of SHAADD supported an outright ban on natural-gas drilling, while others pointed out that there are additional ways to protect against the practice.
One of the ideas mentioned was a Community Rights Banning Ordinance. Another idea would would be to enact a ban but create an ordinance that would take effect if the ban were rescinded in order to protect the borough against legal costs.
Whitehall Councilman Philip Lahr was the first to respond to the SHAADD group and thanked its members for their input. "The proof is becoming stronger, and we need to fight back," Lahr said.
Whitehall Mayor James F. Nowalk brought up that if House Bill 1950 and Senate Bill 1100 both pass the Pennsylvania Legislature, Whitehall may be unable to propose limits on the hours of or location of underground drilling. "We need to take what is happening seriously," Nowalk said.
Whitehall's council members and borough solicitor Irving Firman will be taking a look at options to protect Whitehall.
"I think everyone on council feels that the No. 1 priority is the safety of this community," Lahr said.
Thoughts on natural-gas drilling in Whitehall? Share them in the comments section below.
And check back with the Baldwin-Whitehall Patch later on Thursday for more odds and ends from Wednesday night's borough meeting.