TOWANDA - Bradford County and approximately a dozen other counties across the United States are establishing an association that will advocate for the safe and responsible development of natural gas, the chairman of the Bradford County commissioners said.

Increasing the production of natural gas and oil in the United States will accelerate the economic recovery, and the safe and responsible development of natural gas and oil "is critical to powering our nation's future," the Bradford County Commissioners wrote in a resolution that they plan to pass today, which will make Bradford County a member of the association.

There is "a lot of excitement" in counties across the United States about the association, which will give counties where oil and gas is produced a national voice on oil- or gas-related issues, said Doug McLinko, chairman of the Bradford County commissioners.

"Collectively we have a voice," he said. "Singularly, we don't."

Bradford County Commissioner Daryl Miller said that as far as he knows, until now there has not been a national association of counties formed around issues related to the exploration for and production of oil and gas.

The association is still in its earliest stages of being formed, McLinko said.

But while McLinko and Miller said they plan to vote for the resolution, giving the resolution the two votes it needs to pass, Bradford County Commissioner Mark Smith on Tuesday said he has serious concerns about the formation of the association.

Smith said he is seeking additional information about the association before making a decision on whether to vote for the resolution.

Smith said he is concerned that the association will not represent the county's interests "as a whole" but will only convey views supportive of the gas industry.

Smith explained that the county's interests are that regulations be followed related to gas development, that citizens are "well protected" from hazards related to gas development, and that the needs for economic development are met.

By virtue of the formation of the association, "I don't want to be (cast as) a county commissioner lobbying for the gas industry," he said.

He also said he would not support the county participating in the association if money from gas industry trade associations is funding it. Smith added that there had been indications that such funding would be provided to the association.

However, McLinko said it is too soon to say whether the association would accept money from gas industry trade associations. The association will be raising funds for itself, he said.

Because the formation of the association is in its very beginning stages, a name for the association has not even been set yet, he said.

He said the association would be a non-profit entity and would be a "free-standing organization," he said.

The association will provide input during the process of the forming federal and state laws and regulations related to the exploration for and production of oil and gas, Miller said.

In addition, the association will advocate for development that will "benefit from the use of our resource," such as the construction of gas-fired electric power plants, he said.

Miller said that for him, the most important benefit of the association is that it will provide a forum for the exchange of information and ideas among county officials from throughout the country on matters and issues related to natural gas.

Through the association, county officials "will be able to exchange information (with each other) in a very free-flowing manner," without having to make a trip across the country, he said.

In the past, the Bradford County commissioners had traveled to Wise County, Texas and Lea County, N.M., to obtain information about natural gas drilling and its effects.

The association will also have "conferences and meetings, speakers, round-table discussions, and things of that nature," Miller said.

Dr. Dan Fine of the New Mexico Institute of Technology has spearheading the formation of the association, the commissioners said.

It was Fine who had organized the conference in January in Lea County, N.M., on economic development in oil- and gas-producing counties, which the Bradford County commissioners attended.

The resolution also states that one of the motivating reasons for Bradford County participating in the association is that "the regulatory expansion of the federal government" over oil and gas exploration "threatens to preempt established state authority and practices."

The initial group of 12 to 16 counties in the association, including Bradford, will begin work on establishing bylaws and deciding on the structure of the association, Miller said. At a later stage, this "core" group of members will reach out to other counties to join the association, Miller said.

As the association grows, it will probably need to hire staff to carry out its mission, he said.

Other founding members of the association include Lea and Wise counties, McLinko said.

James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: jloewenstein@thedailyreview.com