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Dan Hust | Democrat

Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development Board Chairman Josh Sommers talks about his organization’s stance on gas drilling Tuesday while Partnership President Tim McCausland (center) and IDA board member Ed Sykes listen.

Partnership welcomes gas drilling that’s safe

By Dan Hust
MONTICELLO — June 11, 2010 — The Sullivan County Partnership for Economic Development considers gas drilling to be in line with its core mission and is taking a more visible pro-drilling stance.
On Tuesday, Partnership President Tim McCausland and Board Chair Josh Sommers visited the Sullivan County Industrial Development Agency (IDA) board’s regular meeting to make a presentation on that stance.
McCausland pointed out that the Partnership’s mission is “to promote and coordinate the economic development of private business in Sullivan County in order to benefit the general public by enhancing the quality of life and improving the standard of living while protecting and preserving the environment for all the inhabitants of Sullivan County.”
Considering the high local unemployment rate, poor high school graduation rates, health issues, property tax strain and other personal and economic stress on residents, the Partnership feels gas drilling could have a net positive effect on the area.
“More deposits, more lending, more money on the streets,” Sommers explained, saying there’s great potential “for a lot of jobs and wealth in a community that really needs it.”
That said, he added, “it’s not ‘jobs at all costs.’ It must really be safe.”
The Partnership has created a policy stating such:
“[The Partnership] believes strongly that, if government and industry can collaborate to properly protect and preserve our environment, the development of a natural gas industry in Sullivan County could create substantial economic and fiscal benefits for our landowners and communities.
“And while the direct economic impacts are vital, the industry must strive to produce (a) a business model that is locally sustainable, and (b) policies that result in a meaningful shift toward energy independence.”
McCausland and Sommers presented figures indicating planned spending in Pennsylvania for Marcellus Shale gas drilling could top $20 billion in 2010-11.
Anticipating new jobs and tax revenue in the area, the Partnership is embarking on an educational outreach plan for its staff, membership and the public, along with participating in various upcoming community discussions on drilling.
Noting that anti-drilling coalitions are well-organized and well-funded, Sommers said the Partnership wants to “be at the table and provide another side of the story that’s accurate.”
“There’s essentially one side talking, and that’s the people opposed to gas drilling,” he explained. “There needs to be a balance.”
He stressed that the Partnership will not sacrifice public health and safety in the name of industry.
“If our environment is not going to be safeguarded, then we don’t want gas drilling either,” Sommers remarked.
Still, McCausland acknowledged that the Partnership is not an industry regulator.
“We’re not in the business of determining what is safe, though we want it to be safe,” he said.
The two explained that the Partnership will push hard for best industry practices and will provide drillers with a “preferred vendor” list to encourage local hiring.
“We’d rather see local people trained in these jobs than out-of-state license plates,” said Sommers.
Callicoon Center farmer Sonja Hedlund, who was in the audience, said she and another Sullivan County Farmers Network member recently travelled to Dimock, PA, where a controversial contamination of water supplies has been linked to gas drilling activity.
She said the labor was indeed from out of state, with potholed roads and no perceivable economic benefit.
“We recognize in Dimock a true disaster happened there,” said McCausland.
But, he concluded, “we do believe in the end, if it’s safe, the benefits would exceed the costs. ... And if it’s coming, you need to get ready for it.”
The IDA was not asked to take a position on the matter, and IDA CEO Allan Scott said it has no plans to do so.

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