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The Shale Game Part 4: Social services

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010



Parts of Pennsylvania have become boom towns for the natural gas industry. Hotels, diners, car dealerships and landowners are reaping the economic benefits of drillers’ investment in the Marcellus Shale gas play. Thousands of people have flooded rural areas to work for drilling companies — but with more people comes greater need for public services, and an economic burden on some communities. As part four in our series The Shale Game, WHYY’s Kerry Grens explores how one county is coping with the gas rush.

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Towanda is the seat of Bradford County, a nexus of natural gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale. Try to get a room in this once-sleepy town along the banks of the Susquehanna River, and you will have a hard time.
Kelly Flynn owns the year-old Bradford Bed and Breakfast.

Trucks on Main Street in Towanda carry water to and from drilling sites.

Trucks on Main Street in Towanda carry water to and from drilling sites.

Flynn: People think that if they come to a small town, that they can just walk in and get a room and that mindset needs to change with the influx of the gas people.

Like many rural areas, Bradford County doesn’t have housing readily available to absorb the influx of workers who have left their families and lives behind in Oklahoma, Texas or Louisiana.

Smith: We have absolutely no idea how many people have come into this county.

Mark Smith is one of Bradford’s County Commissioners.

Smith: It’s thousands and thousands but we have no way of knowing. We know that all the hotels are full. All the camping grounds are full. We know there are people living in places where they shouldn’t be living.

Smith says the county’s budget and services are strained by the influx. Drug and alcohol services, fire departments, emergency dispatching…all have a greater responsibility, but stagnant or shrinking funds.

 

Smith: The gas industry isn’t taxed in Pennsylvania as a property or a severance so there’s no money that flows directly back to county or township governments from the natural gas industry.

Pennsylvania’s legislature has said it planned to have a tax in place by October. A tax could help Bradford County afford the new staff it’s hiring to accommodate the new residents. As long as some of the tax returns to local areas impacted by the drilling – rather than going to the state’s general fund.

Gene Yaw is a republican state senator who represents this region of Pennsylvania.

Yaw: My primary goal and concern is to get as much of this money to stay local as possible. Because that’s where the real impacts are and that’s where the benefits should rest.

Yaw wants 25 percent of a tax returned to local municipalities and counties. But others have their own interest in getting a piece of the pie, such as the state Department of Environmental Protection, which has put additional resources into regulating the industry. And the tax could help balance a teetering budget.

Yaw: I just don’t want a tax to go into a black hole in Harrisburg and it just gets eaten up with everything else. Yaw says he doesn’t know whether the legislature will have a tax ready by the governor’s target date of this Friday.

Either way, the drillers will continue tapping Bradford County’s gas and the County will do its best to accommodate them.

Guthrie Health System has hired eighty one doctors over the last two years. Guthrie operates a hospital, a primary care network, and several specialty groups in Bradford County. Joseph Scopaletti is the CEO of Guthrie Health.

Scopaletti: We were very cognizant that gas exploration was coming and we did have to plan for it.

Tony Ventello, executive director of the Bradford County Progress Authority, says he doesn’t know where the county would be economically were it not for the gas industry.

Tony Ventello, executive director of the Bradford County Progress Authority, says he doesn’t know where the county would be economically were it not for the gas industry.

Fortunately, Scopaletti says, those hires were part of an on-going expansion of the health system. But it has helped Guthrie deal with an eight percent increase in emergency department visits, a need for more laboratory equipment, and a doubling of new patient visits for primary care.

Scopaletti: We’ve not seen a lot of direct well-related injuries. We have seen more population based injuries — more people in the area, more traffic in the roads, so more accidents. So the trauma business is up a bit.

Scopaletti echoes County Commissioner Mark Smith: housing seems to be the biggest problem in Bradford. Tony Ventello is the executive director of the progress authority, an economic development group in Bradford County. He says there’s interest in new construction.

Ventello: The only restraining factor with that is infrastructure. We don’t have a lot of good sites that are serviced with gas, sewer, water. That will come. At a premium.

Two more hotels are being built in Towanda. Kelly Flynn, the B and B owner, says the industry has been great to the local economy.

Grens: Could you have envisioned that this is what Towanda would be like?
Flynn: Absolutely not [laughs]. They kept saying they were coming, they were coming. And we just kept thinking this is a going to be a passing thing. And as time goes on it just keeps getting bigger and bigger.

So might Flynn’s business. She’s thinking of expanding.


4 Comments

  • Donate money says:

    4. Your information was so-so. Still I agree with you that doing Charity is very good. It helps people who are really in distress. And it’s my personal opinion that every person who is living a wealthy life, must Donate money of a little amount of their wealth to help others. Donate money, Help a cause

  • James the 8th grader reading this for Debate says:

    i believe that more people of the state of PA she be concerned….. to be continued da da da…. no seriously i continue my thought after i read Part five

  • Elaine says:

    Thank you for this excellent information. I am close to disparing over the lack of knowledge that people in PA have about this process. When I read how little officials actually know about environmental costs and even about job creation, I am aghast. We need a moratorium on all drilling in PA until we can find ways to protect our land and especially our water, until we can levy taxes that make the risk worthwhile, and until we have solid proof that PA workers are even being hired. The obvious influx of “out of staters” should be a loud and clear warning that PA residents are not the ones getting rich off gas. Let’s wake up before it’s too late, the gas is depleted and our water is ruined.

  • Bill says:

    I live in the foothills of the mountains – south of the drilling and just to the north of the Lehigh Valley; downstream so to speak.

    This series was very informative. Whenever someone attempting to sell something wants to rush the transaction, I exercise more caution. That is what we should do with this issue. What’s the rush? The gas will not disappear!

    How many of the $140,000 jobs mentioned went to residents of PA?

    The PA House passed a tax bill on Wednesday which would send 40% of the tax revenues collected to PA’s general fund. I am somewhat leery of having the General Assembly do anything at this point in time. Rendell is a lame duck and within months of leaving office.

    I would not want to see Rendell negotiating a tax which will be able to subsidize a slush-fund similar to what was done with the Delaware River Port Authority (DRPA). The DRBA collected tolls on the 4 bridges they control and then used some of the money to fund pet projects in Philly & Camden.

    At this point in time, we ought to leave this issue for the incoming administration; whoever wins in November.

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