Lawmakers Hold Hearing on Pocono Fracking

CANAAN TOWNSHIP -- Republican state lawmakers held a public hearing over a proposed permanent fracking ban in part of the Poconos. While the lawmakers will have no say on the ban itself, the hearing near Waymart could be used to influence public opinion.

"I'm so pleased to have all of you here today that share in that frustration and disdain," said Republican State Representative Jonathan Fritz at a hearing regarding a proposed permanent ban on natural gas drilling in Wayne and Pike Counties.

It's a decision that's up to the Delaware River Basin Commission.

Fritz cohosted the hearing near Waymart helping choose who testified before the House GOP policy committee.

"We need the jobs that will not just be created within the industry," said Debbie Gillette, Chamber of the Northern Poconos.

The Chamber of the Northern Poconos, a lobbyist, and a Republican county commissioner spoke about the potential economic benefits if the region were allowed to have fracking.

The Delaware River Basin Commission already has an unofficial ban on natural gas drilling.

More than a month ago, the commission started the process of a making that ban permanent.

Wayne County Commissioner Brian Smith believes it's a property-rights issue and an opportunity for farmers.

"Our farms cannot simply survive today on the price we get for milk. Our farm is suffering," said Commissioner Brian Smith, (R) Wayne County.

Noticeably missing from the crowd were people who oppose natural gas drilling.

Wayne County resident James Barth has spoken out against fracking at similar events but says he only found out about this hearing in the past few days.

"I'm shocked and disgusted by actions of Representative Fritz because I'm his constituent. The only way I found out about this was News Eagle (newspaper)," said Barth.

The public hearing notice was in the local papers over the weekend and on the radio Monday but didn't show up on Representative Fritz's website, his Facebook page, or the page of the major policy committee.

"The opposition or the activists are very well organized, well connected online. They had a place at the table through the governor's office," said Rep. Jonathan Fritz, (R) 111th District.

Governor Tom Wolf's office was invited to the hearing along with the DRBC which expects to have draft regulations on fracking in the basin within the month. Neither one chose to attend.

DRBC issued this statement:

"DRBC did receive an invitation to today’s hearing.  We were informed that the subject of the hearing would be focused on the local economic impact that DRBC’s proposed natural gas regulations would have on the area.

"The commission’s focus is water resource management, and not economic impact; as such, we did not feel that our attendance at this hearing was appropriate."

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