I have been wanting for some time to weigh in on the heated debate surrounding natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and Central New York. This has been a much debated topic as of late, and I really felt that even with the wealth of information available, there was no clear picture as to the benefits and dangers of the on-going and proposed gas drilling that is moving in to the northeast.
With 19 Gas companies now operating in Pennsylvania, with upwards of 34 total gas related companies being actively involved in natural gas drilling and production throughout the region to attempt to tap the vast expanse of natural gas beneath the ground. It is clear that there is enough valuable resources in the earth here to make these companies, whose business spans the globe, to spend billions to get a piece of the action. On the surface there are two distinct sides to the debate. Those in favor of gas drilling tout the fact that with these businesses moving in, it could revitalize stagnating economies, bring with it new jobs, generate massive amounts of tax revenues, and help local businesses keep their doors open. Proponents of Hydraulic fracturing also have some compelling science to back up their claims that gas drilling is safe.
To those opposed to the drilling, they believe that these petroleum barons are bringing with them untold natural and man-made disasters that threaten to destroy the lives of the people in these already hard-hit areas. Toxic chemicals, explosions, destruction of the natural habitat, decimation of the water table, and a plethora of health concerns are on the minds of a large number of people. From documentaries showing sink water that bursts in to flames from the methane seeping in to the water supply, to scenes of horrific destruction to plants and animals due to the havoc wrought from machines and chemicals.
Before we go in to any specifics, let me just point out that, while alot of like to complain about the environmental impact of certain chemicals on the environment, we are the same people who poison ourselves on a daily basis. Here is a quick example. Examples are from Wikipedia.
Phosphoric Acid ...most citric acid in the food industry is not extracted from citrus fruit, but fermented by Aspergillus niger mold from scrap molasses, waste starch hydrolysates and phosphoric acid. Phosporic acid is found in Cola. Cola consumption has also been associated with chronic kidney disease and kidney stones through medical research. The preliminary results suggest that cola consumption may increase the risk of chronic kidney disease.
HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup) A pilot study reported that some high-fructose corn syrup manufactured in the U.S. in 2005 contained trace amounts of mercury. The mercury appeared to come from sodium hydroxide and hydrochloric acid, two chemicals used in the manufacture of high-fructose corn syrup.
In the United States, high-fructose corn syrup has become a sucrose replacement for honey bees. In 2009, a study by Leblanc et al. found that at temperatures above 45 °C (113 °F) HFCS rapidly begins to form hydroxymethylfurfural, which is toxic to the honey bees being fed HFCS. hydroxymethylfurfural, also known as HMF, HMF is found in naturally occuring amounts in foods like honey, fruit-juice, and high-heat processed milk. Oddly enough it is also present in cigarette smoke.
JOBS: Upwards of a million new jobs in total could be created by natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania and New York.
INCOME: Most of these jobs have an annual income of $40,000 to $98,000 a year. This is a nice wage if your family has been struggling. All of these local, and out of town employees will also patronize local businesses, generating tax revenue, and also stimulating the local economy. Land leases and taxes will generate income for local economies, the state, and for the land owners, who will also receive royalties from 12.5% as high as 25% for the land they lease to these drilling companies.
ENERGY INDEPENDENCE: More domestic drilling means less dependence on oil from terror sponsoring countries Like Saudi Arabia, and Iran, and socialist dictatorships such as Hugo Chavez's Venezuela. More domestic drilling also means a boost for the American economy, and helps us make it one step closer to energy independence.
Second we look at the CONS.
WATER CONTAMINATION: The chemicals used in the hydraulic fracture drilling process could leak in to the surrounding water tables and create dangers for humans and animals alike. these drilling companies are reluctant to even divulge the ingredients used in their frac fluid cocktails, so cleaning up these contaminated areas is impossible.
EXPLOSIONS/FIRES: Because we are talking about natural gas, there is always the possibility of a fire or gas explosion. While safety procedures are in place to prevent this from happening, it can, and does happen. Considering that some of the storage tanks, and materials used in the drilling process are located near residential areas, and in one case that I saw, near a School!
NATURAL HABITAT/WILDLIFE: The influx of people and machines can in some cases cause great disturbances in the flow of nature. These can be mild in nature, to downright devastating. Clearing of forests to make roads, and staging areas, chemical run-off contaminating the water tables, forced migration of animals that will sometimes flee as they may see the heavy machinery as a new predator, and with the destruction of their habitat as, these two factors may lead animals to move to another area, which poses it's own problems.
|Image from MIT Tech Review|
While I am skeptical of some of what I see happening with the oil drilling going on in Pennsylvania, and now in New York, I still feel that this could be a big boon to these long suffering, and economically hard-hit areas. All the facts about the safety of these operations are not clear, and some controversies seem exaggerated, there are many more operations like these operating all over the United States, and most of them have a good track-record of safe, environmentally friendly operations. I think taxing the drilling is a bad idea, however safety regulation need to be changed regarding these companies, and the new regulations need to be strictly enforced. We should also pass the FRAC act of 2009, so we can effectively determine the impact of the chemicals used, and to aid emergency crews in cleaning up of contamination should it occur.
Regardless of what I say, this debate is far from over. I hope, in the long run, we can see more such operations come in to being for our economy, and for the thousands of unemployed people whose benefits run out soon, and the Republicans in congress who fought hard to be frugal with our money(and effectively killed a bill extending benefits), the one time you wish they wouldn't. This is a topic for another time. Actually, I'm writing it now.