The question of whether or not the state Department of Conservation and Natural Resources should allow natural gas drilling in the Rock Run area has brought out heated emotions for many. Although no drills have gone into the ground, talks are under way between the department and Anadarko Petroleum Corp. regarding natural gas development in the area.
"To date, these discussions have been preliminary in nature, focusing on the identification and protection of important species and habitat," said Mary B. Wolf, government relations adviser for Anadarko.
"With all of our operations, and in particular on state forest lands, we are looking to minimize surface disturbance and also to protect places like Rock Run, which we also recognize as a unique and special area," she added.
However, conservationists also recognize the beauty of Rock Run, and many worry that gas development in the area will destroy one of the state's natural treasures.
Last month, a rally in Ralston drew hundreds of people who expressed their concerns and shared their love of Rock Run. Many said they remembered playing there as children and hold fond memories of an area that they believe needs to be protected.
One of the most outspoken dissenters has been Ralph Kisberg, of the Responsible Drilling Alliance, who worries that the environmental impact of drilling will destroy the area.
"Even if they never spilled a drop of waste and nothing ever broke, drilling here would still have a tremendous impact on this oasis," Kisberg said.
"Rock Run is a little, pristine island completely surrounded by gas drilling. Why can't the DCNR protect this for future generations? That's what we, as the public, have entrusted them to do," he added.
Daniel Spadoni, community relations coordinator for the northcentral regional office of the department, refused to comment on the Rock Run situation, stating that his department does not review or issue drilling permits.
For its part, Anadarko has promised to work with the department to ensure that every precaution is being taken to minimize environmental impact.
The benefits of gas drilling are undeniable, some say. Anadarko has brought jobs to the area and donated to local charities.
However, Kisberg thinks that Anadarko's money would be put to better use elsewhere.
"They have private contracts to drill all around that area. And they're very smart people. If the department refused to allow them drilling access, they would figure out a way to drill horizontally and reach the gas pockets," Kisberg said.
Kisberg said he has no problem with Anadarko drilling horizontally to reach the resources it owns.
"I think this decision is being rushed - the gas will still be there. Technology will keep advancing. Look how far horizontal drilling has come over the last five years alone," he added.