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Residents of Middlesex Township in Pennsylvania protest fracking near schools on July 15, 2015. (Photo: Public Herald/flickr/cc)

Fracking Executive Says Rich Neighborhoods Safe from Drill Sites

At a closed-door seminar earlier this month, Range Resources official says drilling companies avoid 'big houses' of wealthy and influential people

Nadia Prupis

An executive from a top shale drilling firm told attendees of a fossil fuels seminar in Pennsylvania earlier this month that fracking companies deliberately avoid setting up shop near the "big houses" of the wealthy, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.

Two environmental groups, the Sierra Club and the Center for Coalfield Justice, last week sent a letter to the state Office of Environmental Justice to review Range Resources' practices to see if it has indeed avoided rich neighborhoods and targeted low-income areas for shale gas development. Attorneys from both organizations were present at the Pennsylvania Bar Institute's Environmental Law Forum on April 7.

The comments were made by Terry Bossert, Range's vice president of legislative and regulatory affairs, and were reportedly made off-the-cuff as he was giving a PowerPoint presentation titled "Environmental Issues Facing the Oil and Gas Industry."

"We heard Range Resources say it sites its shale gas wells away from large homes where wealthy people live and who might have the money to fight such drilling and fracking operations," Patrick Grenter, executive director of the Center for Coalfield Justice, told the Post-Gazette.

Joanne Kilgour, director of the Sierra Club's Pennsylvania chapter, said the remarks "pose significant environmental justice issues, and raise the question whether the companies coming into the communities are really operating in the best interests of those communities."

As DeSmog Blog notes, Range in 2004 became the first company to drill in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale—a rock formation that extends through much of the East Coast and has been targeted by the energy industry for its untapped natural gas reserves—and has since amassed separate fines of $4.15 million and $8.9 million for various environmental violations.

The letter to the Office of Environmental Justice reads in part, "Mr. Bossert’s comments serve as actual notice of the need to implement policies and practices that protect these communities from the adverse effects of industrial land uses."

Matt Pitzarella, a Range spokesperson who has also made headlines for controversial comments, told the Post-Gazette that Brossert's remarks were "sarcastic" and "facetious." Pitzarella did not attend the meeting.

Grenter, who questioned Brossert over his comments during the meeting, disagreed.

"I was astounded by the environmental injustice that statement conveyed," he said. "There were industry attorneys sitting behind me who gasped."

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