When the subject of the Upper Delaware Councils (UDC) position on natural gas drilling came up at its August meeting, UDC chair Harold Roeder said, The council takes no position one way or the other. The council has two mandates. One is to protect land rights. The second is to protect the river corridor.
The implication of this explanation is that the only way for the council to fulfill its mandates is to remain neutral. Were not sure what taking no position means here, but if it means refraining from action, we disagree. Indeed, the UDCs recent letter of concern regarding the Stone Energy water withdrawal is an example of a case in which we feel the UDC did its job—by taking a stand, not by being neutral.
For the UDC to stay out of the gas drilling controversy would accomplish at best only one small part of Roeders mandates: it would allow that subset of the population that wants to lease to gas drillers to do what they want with their property. But as was pointed out by a couple of members of the public who commented at the meeting, it could equally be seen as undermining the property rights of landowners who do not want gas drilling, and will nevertheless be forced to breathe air filled with industrial toxins, live with constant industrial noise, risk water contamination and see the night skies over their land obliterated by industrial lighting. It could also be seen as undermining the rights of homeowners with properties too small to benefit from royalties, the value of whose houses will plummet because of their newly industrialized environs.
The truth is that when it comes to property rights and gas drilling, some landowners in the river corridor are not going to get what they want. There is no stance the UDC can take, active or passive, to avoid this.
Its also far from clear how neutrality achieves the second mandate. The Wild and Scenic Rivers Act describes protected rivers like the Upper Delaware Scenic and Recreational River as having shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, and specifies that they and their immediate environments shall be protected for the benefit and enjoyment of present and future generations. Absent decisive action by one or more of the various entities tasked with protecting the river, the most massive change that these shores have seen since colonial times is bearing down on us, and it is a change that moves toward industrialization and away from largely primitive and undeveloped shorelines. We know there are those, including some on the council, who believe in good faith that drilling activity does not move far enough in that direction to create a problem. But others disagree, both on the council and among the residents of the corridor they represent. We dont see how the UDC, whose job is to administer the plan devised to implement the intent of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, can possibly avoid doing its best to determine the truth of the matter, and then act on it.
Nor can the fact that the original River Management Plan (RMP) omits mention of hydro-fracking be used as an excuse for avoiding a position. The plan is 24 years old, and not only technology, but the understanding of ecology and its impact on human welfare, have changed tremendously since it was drawn up. In fact, absent gas drilling, National Park Service Superintendent Sean McGuinnesss statement that he might be able to dig up funding for an update of the obsolete plan would probably have been met with hosannas of praise and gratitude.
Instead, Northern Wayne Property Owners Alliance Executive Director Marian Schweighofer said, Unless there is a distinctive reason that the RMP is no longer serving its purpose and is failing the river, you should think very critically about opening that process back up again. Well, if following the existing RMP means the UDC does nothing but collect information while gas drilling comes to the river corridor, without even trying to analyze its effects and arrive at a public determination of its suitability, wed say that the plan is indeed no longer serving its purpose.
If funding is available to do so, the UDC needs to update the RMP. And even if not, as the steward of one of Americas Wild and Scenic Rivers, it needs to undertake a serious study of the extent to which gas drilling might pose a threat to the corridor, and take a stand accordingly. We understand a position paper on these issues has been on the back burner for a while. Maybe now is the time to bring it up front.
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Marygrace Kennedy (see the Youth Voice on the op-ed page of last weeks issue) is an intelligent young lady who has come to some questionable conclusions. Her belief that the Gulf of Mexico has been turned black simply is not correct. Ms. Kennedy has allowed herself to be influenced by the inaccurate reporting of the national press and the attempt by the president to make this into a huge national crisis.
The Gulf is not black, and is indeed quickly recovering from what even Mr. Gibbs, the Presidents mouthpiece, now says was a minor industrial accident. Marygrace, human technologies are not harming the earth. Over millions of years, the earth has gone through many warming and cooling periods without activities by humans. You are an idealistic young lady. Idealism can be a good thing, providing it is not led by erroneous thinking.