Drilling Pennsylvania for Dollars

Here is a guest blog from a familiar face to Citizen Hunter, Brady Russell, who works with clean water action.

A little while back, I drove up into Dimock, Pennsylvania, to meet with a retired teacher who's worried that drilling for natural gas in the Marcellus Shale, a rock formation that's more than a mile down beneath most of Pennsylvania, has made her water undrinkable and her land unsellable. She and her husband moved to Dimock to build a home
and retire together in the peace and quiet, but she's beginning to worry that she made a mistake.


The teacher's name is Victoria Switzer, and I videotaped her talking about the Dimock Drilling Project, by Cabot Oil and Gas, a Texas Company, earlier this year. Clean Water Action Pennsylvania put together the video to give folks a sense of what they can look forward to if the gas man comes to their neighborhood.

Those who've already experienced deep shale natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania say it has destroyed their land. Others haven't gotten that story. They've just heard they can get a check for resources beneath their property. They have no idea what they are in for.

According to the United States Geological Survey, the Marcellus Shale Formation, which stretches across 9 states and into Canada, is believed to contain up to 50 trillion cubic feet of recoverable natural gas. Potentially, two thousand natural gas wells could be drilled across northern and western Pennsylvania in the coming years.

Extracting this resource presents an incredible economic opportunity for much of the Appalachian Basin, and could help meet America's future energy needs. However, if the drilling is not done right, we could be faced with an environmental nightmare from which the region may never recover.

The wells into the Marcellus formation are very different from traditional natural gas wells. They are bigger, deeper, and present a host of environmental threats, including:

*   Requiring two to four million gallons of fresh water per well, which
could come from nearby streams.
*   Producing a million or more gallons per well of water that executives in GE's water treatment division have called the most polluted water on Earth.
*   Building huge pits of extremely polluted water and drill cuttings on each site for weeks or months at a time.
*   Destroying hundreds of acres of forest by clearcutting for wellpads and pipelines.
*   Dramatic increases in air pollution in areas that have never had air problems before -- caused by hundreds of diesel truck trips and venting chemicals stored on site.

Right now, if you hear anything at all about Marcellus Shale Drilling, the beginning and the end of the story is whether or not Pennsylvania will tax the gas as it's extracted. Pennsylvania is unusual among states in not taxing the extraction of natural resources (do to the power of the Coal Lobby). We believe that it should, of course, be taxed, but more importantly that the funds should cover a strong set of regulations on the industry to make sure they care careful as they can be as they drill and reclaim land after.

Ms. Switzer and I still speak often, and she tells me that no one in her area drinks water from their wells anymore. A lot can go wrong with the local water table when deep shale drilling occurs. One woman's well even blew up.

The Pennsylvania Campaign for Clean Water has taken action, but this will be a long struggle. Natural Gas Drilling really does represent the biggest environmental threat to hit Pennsylvania since the Coal Men first came a hundred years ago.

Brady Russell is the Eastern Pennsylvania Director at Clean Water Action.