Candidates for Fracking Oversight Committee under consideration
The Johnson County commissioners had little more than a “thank you” in response to a pair of residents speaking at Monday’s meeting about the dangers of hydraulic fracturing and the imposition it presents for landowners against the practice.
Commissioner Ernie Henshaw said the county was still putting together a list of candidates proposed for the newly approved Fracking Oversight Committee that the board approved in its last meeting.
“I have three or four people interested and three or four people I still need to call back,” Henshaw said as the appointments came up on Monday’s agenda.
Henshaw said the list was not yet complete and more time was needed as the appointment selection under new business was tabled until the commissioners’ next meeting Feb. 24.
Hydraulic fracturing has been a controversial subject in Johnson County for nearly a year now after it became known that landmen were in the region looking for landowners to sign leases that would allow energy companies to drill on their property. At previous meetings between opposition groups and the commissioners, an argument against the practice largely held that individual property owners who are against fracking have lost their rights in the struggle and have asked the commissioners to draft a Community Bill of Rights, which would seek the ban of fracking in Johnson County. Discussions between the two groups have led to further debates and even evolved into a public forum held in Goreville last year. Lately, those discussions have been limited and have become more about individuals expressing their concerns rather than a debate over the pros and cons of hydraulic fracturing.
“Public discussion with our elected officials is the only way to resolve this problem democratically,” Johnson County resident Kris Pirmann said. “I hope we all have more to say in the future.”
Pirmann spoke before the commissioners Monday in Vienna saying afterwards he was not surprised that the debates once had in the meetings have seemingly ended. Pirmann said his goal Monday was to reassure the commissioners that legal precedent has been set elsewhere to allow communities to ban fracking.
“The Bill of Rights was enumerated not to state what the government can sign into law, but precisely what it can’t sign into law,” Pirmann said after having read a prepared statement about rulings by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court that favored fracking bans.
“It’s all well and good to preserve an individual’s right to property and the use of that property,” Pirmann said before the board. “I don’t think opponents of fracking would disagree with that right. In fact, it is the right to preserve the integrity of health and property that our argument stands on.
“If someone is willing to take the risk of their health and property for financial gain, then they have the right to do so – more power to them. But these risks and potential calamities do not stop at a property boundary. What’s implied in bringing fracking into Johnson County is that a property owner is not only able to place their health and property at risk for financial gain, but their neighbor’s health and property at risk for financial gain; it assumes that their neighbor’s right to self-protection can be sold and their neighbor’s land rights (both its market value and integrity as a family heirloom) can be sold. Well, as far as I’m concerned, that’s not a right that’s up for sale.”
While it is likely the commissioners will continue to hear from constituents both for and against the practice of hydraulic fracturing, it appears that the lengthy debates once had within the commissioners’ meetings are coming to an end.
Proponents and opponents of hydraulic fracturing are invited to continue the debate as community rights organizer Natalie Long has scheduled an evening of education and discussion at the Vienna Library, Monday, Feb. 17, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. All are invited to attend.