Mired in gas
By Mike Uretsky
My wife and I moved up here about fifteen years ago. We were attracted to this area because we had friends up here, it was a beautiful environment and the community was an interesting mix of people—some lifelong residents and some, like ourselves, part-time transplants. Since that time, and since retiring, I have become essentially a fulltime resident. I have gotten to know my neighbors quite well. I have more in common with some than with others, but we all respect each other’s individual rights. I believe that everyone owes something to the community they live in. Given my longstanding interest in the arts and the environment, I have been taking an active role in both the Delaware Valley Opera and the Delaware Highlands Conservancy.
The current natural gas situation has an impact on all of us. It will certainly (and rightly) benefit some people. We do not have a legal or moral right to impose our values on our neighbors. At the same time, it is coming and we will all be affected.
There are legitimate questions to be asked. What impact will gas exploration and development have on water, air and implicitly health? What impact is it likely to have on the local and national economy? How is it likely to affect real estate values? What impact is it likely to have on intangibles, e.g., beauty? These are all important questions—some more important to some people than others.
Given my concern, I embarked on my own investigations. They included sitting in on most of the meetings that have been held, consulting with environmental experts, doing web searches, speaking with petroleum engineers, speaking with gas and environmental lawyers, locating and speaking with people living in the “gas patch” out west, getting involved with other property owners and visiting gas fields here in Pennsylvania. I satisfied myself that I understand the issues, the benefits, the risks and the ways that these risks can be kept at a manageable level. Of equal significance, I satisfied myself that most of my neighbors who are looking into leasing some or all of their property are not money grubbers, but responsible members of our community who are cognizant of their neighbors, the environment and the community as a whole.
The current situation has the potential for tearing this community apart. The number of misstatements being made is shocking—especially in contrast with the academic environment from which I retired, in which accuracy and support of statements was an absolute requirement. Of equal significance, the misstatements are overshadowed by the personal rumors that are circulating. They are totally unfounded and unacceptable. If I were the focus of such rumors, my lawyer would respond.
We have a very special obligation to ourselves and each other. Just as there is freedom of speech, there are responsibilities associated with its exercise. You can’t yell fire in a crowded theater. Similarly, in this case, there is a real need to deal with substantiated facts and to keep the discussions from getting personal. Because of its reach, the press has a particularly important role to play. It must make sure that facts are checked and substantiated. It must provide a forum for keeping discussions on a high plain.
We have an obligation to exercise our first amendment rights in the interest of the community. People should sit down at the table and debate the facts. We can then look back at this shared experience and be proud of the fact that we have acted as mature, responsible adults who are interested in our community.
(Mike Uretsky is a retired faculty member at NYU, a resident of Damascus, a member of the board of the Delaware Valley Opera and Delaware Highlands Conservancy and a member of the Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance.)