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Erie Rolls Out Oil and Gas Engagement Plans in Wake of Abandoning Committee

September 22, 2018

A drilling rig is seen near a residential development as Erie High School varsity softball players warm up on Tuesday.

Erie Mayor Jennifer Carroll on Friday announced the rollout of the town’s new oil and gas public engagement platform: a series of anonymous survey questions followed by face-to-face meetings and educational seminars meant to conclude with varied feedback on where the town, split perhaps most vividly on this single issue, goes next.

“Oil and gas is a high priority in Erie for myself and the entire Board of Trustees,” Carroll said in a video posted Friday morning. “During the (April) election you told us that it is a top priority for you as well. Over the next several months we will be working together with town staff, citizens, our legal team, experts and professionals and oil and gas operators to develop a path forward as we work to protect Erie citizens’ health and safety.”

The rollout comes just weeks after a contentious board discussion led to Erie leaders abandoning an idea for an oil and gas ad hoc committee originally floated by Trustee Dan Woog.

The offer for the group to be comprised of a mix of industry experts, impartial residents and perhaps even activists, was dismissed by Trustee Christiaan van Woudenberg as “political theater,” who said he was “not interested in a balanced committee.”

Officials say the public engagement process is the natural follow-upto a drilling moratorium enacted in July. Anti-oil and gas activists welcomed the stay; though its abrupt rollout drew criticism from residents who felt the decision lacked transparency (the item was added to the agenda only a day ahead of the meeting).

When it was approved this summer, officials said the moratorium would give the board time to examine its operator agreements with specific drilling firms, as well as its drilling codes, which were last updated in 2015.

The online survey — activated Friday and available through Oct. 1 — poses six questions that vary between asking residents to prioritize issues surrounding drilling setbacks and air quality to preferred methods of drilling notifications.

“We hear a lot from a vocal few on both sides of the table, and we appreciate hearing from them, but we also need to hear from you if we haven’t. We are now 25,000-plus people strong here in Erie, now is your time to speak up and let us know what priorities are important to you,” Carroll said in the video.

The schedule for the aforementioned face-to-face sessions will be considered early next month, according to Carroll; the first educational seminar is scheduled for Thursday.

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