Outdoor Sportsmen Groups Band Together to Keep an Eye on Marcellus Drilling

An article written by the Associated Press has been picked up and repeated by hundreds of news outlets across the country over the weekend. It is an interesting story, but there’s really nothing “new” and noteworthy about it. A number of outdoor sportsmen groups have banded together into a coalition to keep an eye on Marcellus drilling activity, to be sure it’s not harming the environment—specifically fishing and hunting—and if they detect problems, to sound the alarm and get authorities to take action before it’s “too late.” Individually the groups involved have been keeping an eye on drilling for some time. The “new news” is that these individual groups have formed an alliance and are now working together.

Fishermen are gearing up and hunters are taking aim – for Marcellus Shale gas drilling.

A new coalition of outdoors groups is emerging as a potent force in the debate over natural gas drilling. The Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation isn’t against the process of fracking for gas, but its members want to make sure the rush to cash in on the valuable resource doesn’t damage streams, forests and the various creatures that call those places home.

The movement grew out of grass-roots anger as passionate outdoorsmen found their questions about drilling and wildlife brought few answers from local or state officials.

"Either we didn’t get a response or the answer we got didn’t seem feasible or acceptable. It didn’t seem like the people who were in charge had their pulse on what was actually happening," said Ken Dufalla of Clarksville [in Pennsylvania].

Dufalla stands alongside Whiteley Creek, a little mountain stream in Greene County. But something is wrong. The grass is lush and the woods are green, but the water is cloudy and dead-looking.

"It used to be a nice stream," teeming with minnows, crawfish and other aquatic life, he told the Associated Press. No more, said Dufalla, a former deputy game and fish warden for Pennsylvania.

He’s worried that nearby gas drilling has damaged the creek, either from improper discharges of waters used in fracking, or from extensive withdrawals of water. The drilling industry says numerous studies have shown fracking is environmentally safe, but Dufalla and other sportsmen want to be sure.

The goal is to build a water quality database that identifies problem areas and makes that information available to the public. Currently, there’s little scientific information about whether or how much fracking water impacts wildlife.(1)

The Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation states on their website that they are not against drilling per se, but want it to be done safely. However, they are against it in certain “sensitive” areas that they have identified. The Alliance claims to have a combined membership of 60,000 sportsmen and women from the following organizations:

Members of the Sportsmen Alliance include Trout Unlimited and its Pennsylvania, New York, West Virginia, Mid-Atlantic, and New Jersey state councils, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Izaak Walton League of America, New York State Trappers Association, Quality Deer Management Association, Pennsylvania Forest Coalition, and The Wildlife Society.(2)

MDN’s take: It appears from a video and other materials on the Alliance website that they lean anti-drilling even though they claim to be for safe drilling. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have more eyes and ears out there to ensure drilling is being done right and not impacting local streams and wildlife. As the great Ronald Reagan used to say: “Trust, but verify.” If the Alliance helps with the verify part, so much the better.

(1) Observer-Reporter/AP (Jun 26, 2011) – Sportsmen monitor Marcellus Shale gas drilling

(2) Sportsmen Alliance for Marcellus Conservation website (accessed Jun 27, 2011) – Home page