September 12, 2010; Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | It’s not exactly manna from heaven, but for several cash-strapped nonprofits that own property in an area of Western Pennsylvania known as the Marcellus Shale formation, a rich source of natural gas, it’s the next best thing.

So far, and after receiving assurances there will be no property damage or health risks, at least three nonprofits have signed leases giving drilling rights to oil and gas companies. “If drilling commences tomorrow, you wouldn’t be aware of it,” said Mike Surbaugh, executive for The Greater Pittsburgh Council of the Boy Scouts of America. Under agreements with two companies, drills will be placed on neighbors’ land, where they will drill sideways under Boy Scout Camp property.

Pat Burkart, CEO of The Girl Scouts Western Pennsylvania, said she was assured there’d be no environmental damage or “any disruption to the program for the girls or any health hazard.” The Girl Scouts are facing a $500,000 funding shortfall this year and the revenue from drilling is expected to make up at least half of that.

However, not everyone agrees with Kathryn Klaber, president of the Marcellus Shale Coalition, that the gas reserves represent “an amazing windfall for nonprofits seeking to enhance their mission.” Stanley Pittman, executive director off Sarah Heinz House, a group that teaches children how to swim, boat, and live outdoors, says he has “some reservations ” and “would have to have a lot of assurances.”

Tom Murphy, president of Wild Waterways Conservancy, has said no to any drilling “until we’re clear about the environmental impact.” Mars Home for Youth, which runs a 142-acre campus with homes for needy youths and an alternative school, isn’t willing to take any chances. “Given our proximity to Mars High School and the lack of sufficient regulations in place at this time, we didn’t want to place the youth and staff on our campus or our surrounding neighborhood at risk,” said Martin Harris, executive director.—Bruce Trachtenberg