The Marcellus Shale and Responsible Development
UPDATE: Joe’s December 17 testimony to the DEP advocating tougher regulations for wastewater discharges and toxic pollutants.
Pennsylvania sits above a veritable “gold mine” of natural gas: a layer of rock called the Marcellus Shale which lies underneath 2/3 of the commonwealth (as well as much of our neighboring states) and contains what may be the largest natural gas reserve in the United States.
In 2008, a study estimated the size of the Marcellus Shale to be 80-250 times greater than previously thought, which attracted the attention of the natural gas industry — the substantial investment to drill wells more than a mile deep suddenly seemed extremely profitable — and in the last two years companies have flocked to Pennsylvania to apply for drilling permits and build wells. Already, there are nearly 600 wells in operation in Pennsylvania, with many more permits pending and expected.
The Marcellus Shale represents a tremendous opportunity for Pennsylvania: the creation of thousands of jobs for Pennsylvanians, an economic stimulus to communities and businesses across the commonwealth, and important revenue from extraction taxes. But we must approach this opportunity carefully and manage it responsibly: the stakes are high, and protecting ourselves and our environment must come first.
To drill a well a mile deep, millions of gallons of water (taken from a local stream, river, or lake) are forced down into the shale to fracture it and allow the gas contained within to come to the surface: this is called hydraulic fracturing. To aid the process, dozens of chemicals (including arsenic, benzene, and pesticides) are added to the water. Some of the water remains underground, while most returns to the surface, is treated, and is ultimately returned to its source.
Already, we have seen disasters which result from a lack of careful management, oversight, and protections:
- In Dimock (Susquehanna County) methane leaked into groundwater caused a drinking water well to explode and another well to catch fire; wells were found to contain so much toxic gas that residents were told to open windows for ventilation when bathing.
- Near Pittsburgh, 325,000 people were given a drinking water advisory after toxic wastewater was accidentally discharged into the Monongahela River.
- A chemical spill at a drilling site released over 6,000 gallons of potentially toxic chemicals into Stevens Creek (Susquehanna County). Such disasters kill fish and wildlife and cause environmental damage that can require millions of dollars to clean up and decades to recover from.
We must take strong, swift action to ensure drilling is conducted safely and responsibly, including:
- improving the public’s “right to know” information and increasing the public input process;
- protecting our drinking water, wildlife habitats, and public lands from drilling;
- increasing the Department of Environmental Protection’s enforcement and regulatory powers;
- strengthening existing clean water laws;
- urging Congress to remove exemptions for gas drilling from the Safe Drinking Water Act;
- enacting strong accountability laws and penalties for pollution; and
- passing a 5% extraction and severance tax on natural gas to benefit all Pennsylvanians.
The extraction tax is an essential part of the equation. The industry has argued that such a tax would reduce their interest in Pennsylvania, but this is simply not true: of the top fifteen natural gas producing states, Pennsylvania is the only one without an extraction tax. West Virginia’s 5% tax on the value of natural gas extracted hasn’t deterred drilling interest, and neither will Pennsylvania’s. Such a tax could raise over $100 million per year for the commonwealth.
Revenue from the extraction taxes will be directed in part towards renewing the highly successful Growing Greener programs. The hundreds of projects funded through these programs since their creation in 1999 (Growing Greener) and 2005 (Growing Greener 2) have:
- cleaned up rivers and streams (Department of Environmental Protection);
- decontaminated abandoned mines and industrial sites (DEP);
- financed advanced energy projects (DEP);
- preserved natural areas (Department of Conservation and Natural Resources);
- improved state parks and recreation areas (DCNR); and
- protected working farms (Department of Agriculture).
Growing Greener expires in 2012 and Growing Greener 2 in 2011, and we must act soon to ensure these programs can continue their excellent environmental work. Part of the Marcellus Shale extraction tax will provide dedicated funding for a Renew Growing Greener program.
Joe Hoeffel will fight for these crucial policies to allow Pennsylvanians the maximum benefits from our Marcellus Shale resources without compromising the safety of the commonwealth.