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Pa. citizens group targets gas drilling pollution

Kevin Begos, Associated Press

PITTSBURGH (AP) -- A community group in northeastern Pennsylvania wants to reduce Marcellus Shale gas drilling air pollution by seeking to work together with the industry to protect regional air quality and health.

Breathe Easy Susquehanna County said in a release that they will promote respectful dialogue with the industry to seek the lowest possible levels of air pollution. The nonpartisan group is based in Montrose, which is about 40 miles north of Scranton.

The region has seen a boom of gas drilling activity over the last five years, with thousands of new well permits and pipelines. BESC members say the industry can use technology to voluntarily reduce air pollution to levels below existing regulations. The group said some of its members have family who work in the industry while others don't even have drilling leases.

BESC chair Rebecca Roter said they would prefer energy that doesn't emit harmful air pollution, but also must acknowledge the reality of what they are living with. "We can't afford to stick to ideology — we need to act now and limit our chemical exposure as much as practical," she said.

"We all recognized that if we want to remain living in our community, we need to work together to protect our air to limit our chemical exposure," added BESC co-chair Paul Karpich.

George Jugovic, an environmental lawyer with the group Penn Future, said it makes sense for a community group to try to focus the discussion on real concerns, and work with the industry when possible.

"It's not a matter of being for or against the industry. It's a matter of being in favor of public health," Jugovic said, adding that finding ways to reduce pollution often requires serious discussion.

BESC said it is nonpartisan, and will advocate that the industry "act as good neighbors and partners through voluntary use of best technologies" to reduce pollution.

George Stark, a spokesman for Cabot Oil & Gas Corp., which has many wells in the region, said they've been encouraging community-based dialogue for some time. "We welcome others to join us," Stark said of BECS. Cabot is based in Houston, Texas.

The gas-rich Marcellus Shale extends below parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and New York.