Jane Van Ryan
Posted November 19, 2010
Pennsylvania appears to be having a knee-jerk reaction to a commonly-used process to produce natural gas from shale rock formations. In the past few days, the outgoing governor has imposed a ban on all new natural gas drilling on public lands, and Pittsburgh's City Council has passed a bill to ban drilling within the city limits.
Gov. Richard Ed Rendell stopped new drilling on state-owned land over the political dispute with the Pennsylvania General Assembly. He had expected the lawmakers to consider a bill placing a severance tax on natural gas production. But when they recessed without taking action, he slapped a ban on new drilling on state-owned property.
The Pittsburgh City Council voted to ban drilling after opponents stirred up fear over hydraulic fracturing. According to the Associated Press, the opponents claimed the trace chemicals used in fracturing, also called "fracking," can contaminate water. The bill passed by the Council was drafted by the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.
Had the City Council done its homework and considered all sides of the hydraulic fracturing issue, it would have discovered that it's hardly a new process. It has been used successfully in more than one million wells during the past 60+ years. Studies by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have examined fracking and determined that the underground injection of fracking fluids "poses little or no threat" to drinking water supplies. EPA also found "no confirmed cases linked to fracturing fluid injection of CBM wells or subsequent underground movement of fracturing fluid."
The Marcellus Shale Coalition, an industry group, decried the Council's action. "At a time when the natural gas industry is generating jobs and prosperity for tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and economic development across the Commonwealth, it's unfortunate that the council continues to maintain a shortsighted view regarding responsible shale gas development and its overwhelmingly positive economic, environmental and energy security benefits," said Kathryn Klaber, the coalition's president and executive director.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania's business community is embracing natural gas development. At a recent gathering sponsored by the Greater Johnstown Chamber of Commerce, one company executive described the Marcellus Shale as "a tsunami of economic opportunity."
But there will be no tidal wave of jobs or prosperity under overly restrictive fracking policies. As API Senior Economist Sara Banaszak told reporters yesterday, "Adding unnecessary additional regulation of this practice could kill jobs and important economic activity and also hamper our nation's energy security. Studies estimate that up to 80 percent of natural gas wells drilled in the next decade will require hydraulic fracturing."
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