Welcome to the Pennsylvania Citizens’ Toolkit Resources.
With the ever expanding oil and gas operations in our region, citizens, advocacy groups, and elected officials seem to have more questions than answers. And, because so much of this industrial development is new to most communities, finding facts on the operations and the permitting approval processes can seem daunting. In an effort to help educate, inform, and guide citizens through the basic components of the process, the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) is developing a Citizens’ Toolkit. This informational toolkit provides descriptions of key portions the public notification and participation requirements, as well as fact sheets and example templates, so that citizens and decision makers can better prepare themselves.
The Golden Rules: As citizens educate themselves on oil and gas operations and local oversight issues, engagement with local elected officials and reviewing bodies or boards is key. In order to achieve effective engagement, citizens should strive to become reliable sources of factual resources by using the following methods of presenting facts, asking questions and seeking important updates and changes at all levels of government.
- State the facts – using documents, reports or other factual resources, citizens should base their oral and written presentations on materials obtained via publicly accessible documents, news stories/reports and other objective resources. It is important, when and where possible, for citizens to base their comments on company documents provided as part of the application process so that specifics about the proposed project can be referenced. For example, permit applications, along with the accompanying correspondence submitted for review, provide important insights into what a company may be seeking. There is a treasure trove of publicly available documents, if you know where to look for them and how to ask to obtain access to them. See PA Right to Know Law tool section of the Citizens’ Toolkit for more information.
- Ask questions – if full disclosure of pertinent facts are not available via the means outlined above, citizens can and should pose questions to decision makers. Questions can be submitted in writing or included as part of oral comments or testimony as part of the various meeting/hearing opportunities described throughout the Citizens’ Toolkit. The most effective questions are based on facts, and not just speculation or opinions. See Public Meetings/Public Hearings tool section of the Citizens’ Toolkit for more information.
- State your opinions – opinions can be included as part of citizen participation in meetings, hearings or other public comment opportunities. However, it is important to note that passion and emotion alone, are not enough. It is essential that personal opinions or accounts include references to hard facts. Be mindful that stating opinions does not mean citizens can accuse anyone or any company of a misdeed and doing so usually is counterproductive. Use your opinions wisely. See Public Meetings/Public Hearings tool section of the Citizens’ Toolkit for more information.
EIP continues to add educational resources into our Citizens’ Toolkit. Currently included in the toolkit are the following sections:
- Local Application Process – Complete and Fully Transparent Submissions are a Must
- Act 14 Municipal Notification Letter Tool: important notifications that signal oil and gas development may be coming to your community
- What the letters are – how they are received – timelines associated with them
- How to ensure local government officials and citizens understand the importance of these notification letters
- Template language local officials can use to open lines of communication with the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP)
- PA Right to Know Law tool:
- Public access to documents submitted by oil and gas companies
- How to submit a Right to Know request (local, county, and state)
- What records are considered “public”
- What to do if citizens have questions or concerns
- How to Write a Letter to the Editor
- How to Document and Report a Problem
- How to Prepare My Testimony
- Questions to Ask Before Signing a Gas Lease
Soon to be added are the following:
- Public Meetings/Public Hearings tool:
- The rules for each
- Instructions on how best to participate
- Some important things to listen and watch for as concerned citizens
- How and when to present comments on the record
- Some example template language as guidance
- PA Sunshine Law tool:
- What it means for public notification, public meetings, and public participation
- What it means for citizens’ rights to attend, participate, and record meetings
- What it means for public officials and how governmental procedures are to be conducted
- The PA Municipal Planning Code tool:
- What it is – how it affects local government’s procedures
- Some key provisions that could be helpful to citizens and advocacy groups
The Citizens’ Toolkit is the start of important resources, designed to help level the playing field for those hoping to become engaged in the application, review, and permitting processes for the oil and gas operations.
EIP will update the tools and resources, as warranted.
We look forward to working with you as, together, we seek accountability and transparency.
Local Application Process – Complete and Fully Transparent Submissions are a Must
In an effort to ensure full disclosure of the entirety of each proposed oil and gas operation, so that local decision makers can make lawful – and the best – decisions for their communities, Townships/Boroughs should consider adopting the following requirements:
- Step one – Completeness Review: How local officials can and should adopt an application review process that is consistent with the process used by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP).
- Step two – Technical Review and Conditional Use Procedures: How using this two-step process, local government officials can ensure that all required submittals have been received so that all applicable Boards/Commissions/Councils can consider a complete application package and render their decision on all the facts and not just incomplete or partial submittals.
For more information: “Local Application Process”
Companies applying for permit approval from the state must send letters to the host municipality announcing plans to submit an application to PA DEP for permitting operations. The following letters give you an idea of what you may find in the letters and also include tips on what to look for.
PA Right to Know Law Tool
Facts matter – so there is power in public files. Having access to actual company documents, reports, and correspondence with the overseeing regulatory agency is an important way to level the playing field. Company documents will reveal specific details about the proposed operation and its location, as well as provide key pieces of information about pollution sources and other factual details. Submitting comments, preparing testimony, or participating in open Question and Answer sessions can be made much stronger when facts from actual company documents can be called into question.
For more information about accessing public documents: “Facts Do Matter – The Power of Public Files”
How to Write a Letter to the Editor
Your opinion matters and you should consider voicing your concerns publicly. Writing a Letter to the
Editor at your local or regional newspaper provides an outlet for elected officials, regulators, and the public to consider important, personal viewpoints on proposed projects, existing operations, and proposed expansions of facilities in your community, in the region, and throughout the state.
See more details: “How to Write a Letter to the Editor”
How to Document and Report a Problem
You are the eyes and ears of the community. What you see, hear, smell, and feel is important.
If you see something that might indicate an emergency – like a spill of fluids in or around your property, a strong chemical smell, or a flaring event – it is important to report those incidents to the appropriate agency.
For more information: “How to Document and Report Problems”
How to Prepare My Testimony
Public hearings are key windows of opportunity for your voice to be heard by decision makers at all levels of government: local, county, state and federal. There are ground rules for participating in hearings including a strict time limit. This fact sheet will provide a guide to how you can best prepare to participate in a public hearing.
For more information: “How to Prepare My Testimony”
Questions to Ask Before Signing a Gas Lease
It is important to note that no one portion of an oil and gas operation is a stand-alone feature: from well pads to processing plants, there is a highly industrialized web of infrastructure needed to support the entirety of the operation. However, far too often, industry does not completely disclose the full capacity buildout of their planned operations so asking for more details and disclosures is essential. Having a fuller picture of exactly what might be planned for your property and your community is important.
For more information: “Questions to Ask Before Signing a Gas Lease”
Questions or Comments
If you have questions about the resources above, the permitting process, or just want to share your own insight or stories, please contact us through the form below.