Opinion

Column | Pennsylvanians saved Buffalo Bills

At first glance, it seems we have only Terry Pegula, the new owner of the Buffalo Bills, to thank for keeping the team here in western New York.

But it wasn’t Pegula who saved the Bills, it was his money — lots of it. Where did all of that money come from?

For millions of years, the gas-rich Marcellus Shale lay out of reach 5,000 feet under Potter and Tioga counties in Pennsylvania. Then, according to an April 2013, Wall Street Journal article:

“A firm called East Resources Inc. was among the first to drill into the Marcellus Shale. ... As the small wildcatter drilled, starting in 2008, regulators repeatedly cited it for spills or other environmental infractions, almost two for every shale well it drilled. ... In 2010, Royal Dutch Shell bought East Resources. The first thing the oil giant did was shut down the rigs for two weeks and retrain the workers. Since taking over, Shell has averaged less than one violation for every four wells.”

In 2009 and 2010, Pennsylvania inspectors cited 73 percent and 63 percent, respectively, of East Resources’ wells for at least one regulatory violation.

Drilling violations could include fracking pit and storage violations, surface spills and illegal disposal and discharge of industrial waste, storm runoff violations and improper cementing and casing of wells.

A Pennsylvania Land Trust Association study for 2008 to mid-2010 claims that East Resources was cited with more “violations most likely to harm the environment” than any other drilling company — 138 violations at its 140 wells. To be fair, on an average violations-per-well basis, East Resources looks good when compared with other wildcatters, some averaging seven and 11 violations per well.

East Resources, Pegula’s drilling company, moved fast to exploit the Pennsylvania gas-drilling boom and then get out. His timing was perfect. In the right place at the right time, Royal Dutch Shell paid $4.7 billion for East Resources in 2010, netting Pegula about $3 billion.

Though Pegula has moved on, the people of Tioga and Potter counties who lived with the health and environmental risks associated with modern industrialized gas drilling have not.

Heavy truck traffic — 3,000 round trips per well — brought exhaust fumes and noise and traffic jams and spills. Property values declined. Housing costs went through the roof. Toxic drilling fluids pumped into each well made their way into nearby streams from leaking drilling pipes and surface spills.

In the 2010 campaign alone, East Resources covered its political flanks by raising more than $525,000 for Pennsylvania candidates while Pegula’s wife, Kim, a company officer, donated a whopping $360,000 to Republican Gov. Tom Corbett, a fracking promoter.

The Pegulas played the entrepreneurial game well.

But what about the forgotten people of Potter and Tioga counties who took the environmental hit for the Bills fans? Why not say thanks by designating a dozen or so no-cost seats in Ralph Wilson Stadium the Marcellus Section, reserved for them — and other Pennsylvanians living on the Marcellus gas field?

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