“It’s been a part of life here forever, and it’s a natural thing,” Wise says. “This is where all the coal and natural gas is, so if you want to be here, you just deal with it. If you don’t like it, move somewhere else.”
There are others in Erie besides Wise who think that all the fuss festering around gas development in the town is causing some of the biggest problems.
“I’m afraid Erie Rising is just going to cost Erie money and not do any good,” says Richard Lesser, an Erie resident for the past 12 years. “There have been local communities that have tried to fight drilling in their neighborhoods without cause, and its cost them hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and in the end they did not win. They did not win because they didn’t have a good case. They just went to court thinking that they could pull something off, that they might get something because of all this community pressure, but the rules in place are sound, and all they did was collect their community’s money.”
As demonstrated by the plight of Pavillion, Wyo., where fracking has been a divisive issue for more than a decade, there are still more problems that can come from the loud nature of the protests in Erie, Lesser says.
“There’s no correlation between property values dropping and nearby drilling,” Lesser says. “However, with lots of headlines about it, and with lots of people pushing out inaccurate information, we could start to see that.”
Lesser echoes Wise’s sentiment that most of the concerns around fracking are unproven and based on fear rather than fact. The leaders of Erie Rising are utterly distraught, he says, and there is no test, no measurement and no facts that will prove to them that the air in Erie is safe to breathe.
“Nothing will convince them that this can be safely done,” Lesser says. “And if that’s the case, then how can you have a discussion with these people? Their minds are made up.”
That their minds are made up is certainly true. Leonard, Brueske and the rest of the Erie Rising members are bound and determined to see fracking removed from their communities. But they would counter the arguments of Lesser and Wise by saying that oil companies should prove fracking is safe before drilling begins, not after.
Because of the conflicting science, the concerns and the arguments on both sides are legitimate and impassioned. But whatever the truth might be about the safety of fracking in the Erie area, one thing is certain: Erie is changing. And if both sides can’t find a way to work together on the fracking issue, then both sides will suffer the same fate, as Erie’s quality of life declines and its economy, including its housing market, are put at risk.
Like it or not, Pandora is out of her box, and it will likely take all of the residents of Erie to put her back in.