Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Volunteers Enlisted to Watch Shale Activity

The Fayette County based Mountain Watershed Association is teaming up with several other environmental groups in an effort to put an army of volunteers into the Youghiogheny watershed to keep an eye on Marcellus shale drilling activities. Association Organizer Veronica Coptis says currently there is very little drilling activity in the watershed but several permit applications have been field and many have been approved.

The “Marcellus Citizen Stewardship Project” will train volunteers through a series of classes. Among the topics on the agenda; understanding the permitting process to help volunteers track when wells are coming to their area, ways to detect pollution using your eyes, ears and nose, how to document violations and file complaints, and basic safety training. “We want to make sure no one gets hurt doing this,” says Coptis. The volunteers will also get training on what all those water trucks are doing down by the creeks, streams and rivers. “They will be able to tell the difference between if a truck is withdrawing water from a stream or dumping water in a stream, to know what is allowed by regulation, what is an illegal pollution activity, and how to follow through with a complaint so action is taken,” says Coptis”

Volunteers will be asked to head to the same site at least once a week. “By having them visit the same site, they can notice trends,” says Coptis, “which companies are operating at a better standard and which companies are operating not at the same standard.”

The Yough watershed covers portions of Fayette, Westmorland and Somerset Counties with Ohiopyle as its centerpiece. Coptis says the Watershed was negatively impacted by coal mining and abandon mine drainage in the past and has made a nice recovery and is now a great recreational asset. She says the goal is to make sure the quality of the waterway is preserved or improved now that Marcellus extraction has come to the region. If the effort is successful, Coptis hopes to expand the effort to other watersheds. She says the DEP does not have enough personnel to be at every drill site and the department needs extra feet on the ground.

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