The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

January 11, 2014

Potential of drilling industry providing tough act to balance

By Lynn Saternow

- — ON FRIDAY MORNING as the news broke about the chemical contamination of the water system in West Virginia, I couldn’t help but think immediately of the front page headline in Thursday’s paper:

Oil, gas industries hold key to future

The headline referred to a story from the Mercer County commissioners meeting where the county leaders felt there could be some economic impact derived from a boost of those businesses in the county.

But with the boost of those kind of industries, also comes the higher chance of accidental contamination of air, ground and water.

In West Virginia, it was a chemical spill in the Elk River in Charleston that shut down much of the city and surrounding counties. It especially hit home for me because my granddaughter Lexi lives near Huntington, not that far away from the chemical spill.

The contamination from a chemical used in thee coal preparation process affected some 300,000 people and brought about a serious response from the Department of Environmental Protection.

However, by the time the news came out, some people were probably already affected by the contaminated water.

While we don’t know how serious it is yet, I had to laugh when the water company president Jeff McIntyre said, “I don’t know if the water is not safe.”

Yes, but you don’t know if it is safe, which is the real problem. Hey Jeff, slug down this glass of water since we “don’t know if the water is not safe.”

The biggest problem we face in this country is trying to protect the environment while also allowing big business to progress. It can be a very tough balancing act at times.

We experienced air pollution for years when the steel mills were booming in the Shenango Valley before tighter restrictions were required. Today Mercer County has the second highest incidence of cancer of all counties in Pennsylvania.

Obviously in West Virginia, coal mining is huge. It always was in big areas of Pennsylvania as well. But along with it comes dangers of mine collapses, black lung disease and other problems.

And also there comes the possible contamination threats.

It is the same with the oil and gas business that we have seen become a huge growth business in Pennsylvania.

While Mercer County commissioners pointed out that there could be a big future for that kind of business here, which would boost employment and taxes, we also worry about the effect on the environment.

Fracking, a process to get natural gas out of the ground, has been highly questionable although the true effect on the environment has yet to be determined.

The commissioners pointed out that while oil and gas businesses are important, they also hope for a boost in manufacturing, agricultural, retail and tourism developers to balance out the economy.

Of course it’s easy to say, but tough to accomplish.

But one thing that everyone needs to watch is how the oil and gas industries affect the area. While we need jobs, we also need safe living conditions for our families.

Sometimes that balance is as difficult to find as it is to bring new businesses and industries into Mercer County.

The Herald’s Lynn Saternow writes this column each Saturday for The Herald. He can be reached at