This blog chronicles and analyzes developments in the Upper Delaware Valley, with an emphasis on public affairs, politics and what people are doing to make this a better place. You can find news here as well as commentary - but don't expect neutrality. The award-winning editorial writer for The River Reporter from 2004 to 2012, I am an advocate for sustainability, self-sufficient economic growth vs. globalization and protecting the environment on which our health, prosperity and quality of life depend.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gas commission gets going

The Town of Delaware’s newly formed commission on natural gas drilling held its first meeting on Monday, October 9, sans Fred Stabbert, who did indeed resign before the meeting (see “Friday evening gossip…” below). Superintendent Ed Sykes, who was there for the first outing but will not necessarily be at future meetings, said he understood Stabbert’s feeling that, as publisher of a newspaper, Stabbert felt he needed to maintain independence. (In answer to a question from the public at the town board meeting at which the names had first been announced, Sykes had listed Stabbert as one of three commission members he considered pro-fracking.)

This first defection notwithstanding, my very preliminary impression is that Sykes may have actually succeeded in doing what he said he wanted to do: appoint a commission composed of members who, while they do start out with a position leaning either for or against fracking, are willing to be open minded about the issue. Commission members are Earl Kinney, Matt Hofer, Kara McElroy, Cindy Menges and Craig Schumacher . The commission itself will select a sixth member, but had not done so as of the end of Monday’s meeting. Menges will be chairman at least until the sixth member is selected.

Although it was hard to tell much from a first meeting at which the discussion was mainly about process rather than substance, I consider it unlikely that this group will follow its unfortunate predecessor in Cochecton by winding up in ideological gridlock. That’s partly because the way the members interacted suggests an ability to work together well, but also because, although the group has not yet even fully articulated what its mission is, as discussed so far it will focus on fact finding rather than policy prescriptions.

As Schumacher put it, "We are out to find the truth," and although that is perhaps an overly simplistic and even naive way to put it, the members' discussion of method suggested a hardheaded and practical approach that could potentially produce some valuable results. Particularly interesting was the insistence on sourcing all information in hard data and primary studies, combined with the admission that even apparently neutral sources like university studies could be influenced by who commissioned and financed those studies. Cindy Menges in particular took a lead on promoting this angle, and said she has worked extensively with statistics and knows how they can be skewed to support almost any point of view. The focus on sourcing, tempered by a healthy skepticism about the apparent neutrality of any source, strikes me as a good place to start.

Whether the town board will be influenced in any way by the group’s findings is, of course, quite another question.

The commission’s next meeting will be on Monday, October 22 at 5:30 p.m. in the town hall, and it will continue to meet weekly for the subsequent month, with meetings probably becoming less frequent as it gets in the groove. The public is welcome, but it is requested that all comments be submitted in writing. A dedicated email address will be established for that purpose.

The request is that all public comments back up any assertion with the source of the facts alleged, including if possible hyperlinks. For the first meeting, the commission is requesting input on what questions the group ought to be seeking the answers to.

My impression is that this group is indeed open to credible information, and it is important that anyone who knows of good primary sources regarding the environmental and economic impacts of hydrofracking provide the commission with links to those studies, or publication information allowing them to obtain hard copy.

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