Last week I received an email informing me about a public workshop meeting in Cecil Township with Range Resources for the stated purpose of improving relations between the town and the drilling company.
Less than three hours before the meeting was slated to begin, Range Resources abruptly canceled it.
The spin which followed is a good example of how our communities are being divided over an issue on which most residents fundamentally agree with my position—we should be developing our natural resources such as Marcellus Shale, but doing so safely and responsibly.
The key is deciding who gets to define what drilling “the right way” looks like. I thought this public meeting would be a great way for people to have a direct conversation and establish some real accountability that is sorely lacking based on feedback from my constituents (many of whom are leaseholders) and my own personal experiences.
State Sen. Tim Solobay and I received the same email from Cecil Township informing us about the meeting the day before it was set to occur. I sent both the township and multiple parties at Range an email inquiring about what our expected level of participation was to be, and did not receive a follow-up response.
My intention was to sit in the back of the room and listen unless specific questions arose about legislative issues with which I was directly involved. I was extremely curious as to what my constituents had to say, and how Range would respond.
I was also somewhat concerned based on prior experiences in neighboring communities. Range held a meeting in Mt. Pleasant Township in 2010, which they packed with non-residents who clearly had marching orders to fill the room and give the appropriate pro-Range response. Many residents at the meeting confirmed this practice based on their conversations and first-hand observations.
This isn’t speculation—it happened.
Partially to avoid a similar debacle, but mainly to let interested residents know what was happening, I posted information about the meeting on my Facebook page. This is hardly unique—I use Facebook and social media on a daily basis to keep my constituents informed about what’s happening because it’s fast, direct and doesn’t cost the taxpayers any money.
So I created an event on Facebook the day before the meeting called “Range Resources/Cecil Township Workshop” and copied the exact public notice that appeared in the Observer-Reporter to let people know about the meeting. I also posted the following as a comment for clarification purposes: “I received an email informing me about this event; to be clear, I am NOT the organizer. I have inquired as to the format, agenda, etc. and have not yet received a response. It is my understanding that public comment will be permitted.”
Again, because state law requires public comment at an advertised public meeting, this seemed totally logical.
The next day, the meeting was cancelled by Range about two hours before it was to begin. According to media reports, Range said they cancelled because my presence would be a distraction—this is an absurd fabrication with no basis in fact or reality.
I had no intention of creating any sorts of problems at all, did not encourage anyone else to do anything of the sort and did not say one word that would imply trouble. Any suggestion to the contrary is just a lie by Range. I posted public information about a public meeting in a reasonable and responsible way, like I do every day. I was doing my job, and went out of my way to not stir emotions on the issue.
You want to know what I think happened?
Range never intended to let anyone from the public speak, which was confirmed in the letter to me from its lawyer. It is state law for any publicly advertised municipal meeting to allow for public comment, so after my email to Range politely inquiring about the format and agenda of the meeting went unanswered, I treated it like any other public meeting.
I think when Range realized the cat was out of the bag about no public participation; they invented some totally false theory that I was going to start trouble as an excuse to back out.
To say Range cancelled because they were afraid of what I was going to say is a pathetic cop-out. If I had gone in and acted like a fool, I would have to answer for that, but they both know I respect my constituents and have worked too hard on this issue to act that way.
Range didn't want me (or anyone) asking questions such as, "How can you say Cecil is stopping you from drilling when you haven't even applied for a permit and the ordinance is the same one you when you drilled the 10 previous wells here?" These aren't radical questions—just ones Range doesn't want the public to know the answers to because it doesn't fit into their public relations game.
Range and its high-paid team of lobbyists, lawyers and public relations spinners will no doubt go on blaming and attacking me because it's easy, but I'm just a convenient scapegoat. If you believe a word of what they're saying about me, please call me and I will be happy to sit down and explain my positions and why I hold them.
I will explain how I favor responsible, honest drilling of our energy resources, and I will bolster my positions with documented facts. Whether you necessarily agree with me or not, I will be honest about where I stand and why I believe what I believe.
I don't know how Range can say they want to start a new spirit of cooperation with any town while keeping out or shutting up anyone who may disagree with them or question anything they say.
They said all they needed to say by cancelling the meeting at the mere thought they would have to be held accountable. Do you think they would have been fine if the roles had been reversed, and only people who disagreed with Range’s approach were permitted to speak? Do you seriously believe lawyers and industry-funded spin machines wouldn’t have descended on the meeting like a plague of locusts?
It's easy to divide and conquer a community when you can say whatever you want without being held accountable to the people in the crowd. It's not how government is supposed to work; in my personal opinion it's downright un-American.
I'm not just the elected legislator for this community—I'm also a citizen here. I grew up here, and I plan on seeing my kids grow up here. And my community will not be divided by these childish games and tactics—not on my watch.