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Marcellus Shale Development: Let’s Get It Right

by David M. Sanko Executive Director, Pa. State Association of Township Supervisors

Over the past two years, there has been much discussion about the impact of natural gas development in Pennsylvania.

In recent weeks, this has reached a fevered pitch as state government leaders try to finalize a new law before the end of the year. There are many moving parts and issues on the table. Emotions have run high on all sides, and occasionally, facts and sound science have become the casualties.

There have been compromises and accommodations all through the process, but the cake remains unbaked!  

As elected officials, everyone in this process shares a collective responsibility to Penn’s Woods and its people. That includes the members of the General Assembly, the governor and members of the Pennsylvania State Association of Township Supervisors—which represents 95 percent of the land mass of the commonwealth.

In this current sluggish economy, PSATS certainly welcomes the jobs and economic development opportunities that natural gas development brings, as well as the opportunity to reduce our national dependence on foreign oil. However, PSATS is also interested in preserving the quality of life of Pennsylvanians and our environment.

That said, we support the benefits of exploration and production of our commonwealth’s natural resources as long as they are done safely.  

Much has been offered about and , the two primary bills before the General Assembly that deal with the issue of natural gas development. Both bills, in their original form, were unacceptable to PSATS.

In fact, they were unacceptable to ALL local government associations because they sought to strip local government of any role in this process, and we said so. Both bills have been amended, and each one now has parts that are more reasonable and represent a positive step toward maintaining appropriate and traditional local control.

Each, however, also has substantial flaws that prevented PSATS from endorsing either.  

As we move toward the final days of debate, I thought it important to share PSATS’ guiding principles and motivations from a local government perspective.  

To summarize, we support enhancements to current law to better protect our environment (land, water, and air). We support the creation and enhancement of pipeline standards to provide for the safe transport and distribution of these resources. We support the development and enhancement of public safety mechanisms and emergency response plans that will ensure the maximum protection of Pennsylvanians. We support market development programs to encourage greater use of natural gas. We support the distribution of a local impact fee where a significant majority of the revenues remain in affected communities, enabling them to deal with development-related costs today and in the future and to avoid local property tax increases.

And most importantly, we oppose the total elimination of local control, including land use. Instead, we support the maximum possible retention of local decision-making authority to provide for the reasonable development of natural resources consistent with law.  

In the last century, in the “race to embrace” coal, timber, oil and steel, Pennsylvania didn’t necessarily “get it right” when it came to responsible development of those natural resources. In a new century, we have a new opportunity to “get it right this time.”

Shame on everyone if we miss THAT boat.

Roger December 11, 2011 at 11:39 AM
"... let's get it right." What and who defines "right."
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 11, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Mr. Sanko, thank you for your hard and difficult work on behalf of local governments. However, much as “getting it right” is a laudable goal for which to advocate, unfortunately at this time there is no way to know if this unconventional drilling into shale layers can be done rightly. The entire enterprise is a huge gamble. There does not yet exist a scientific consensus that what we put down into the shale (including extremely toxic, cancer-causing chemicals) or what the drilling mobilizes from the shale (including water-soluble radioactive elements and some of those chemicals) cannot get into groundwater aquifers over time. I challenge anyone – gas companies especially - to show that such a scientific consensus exists. We are risking the contamination of drinking water sources over half the land mass of Pennsylvania and in surface-level watersheds that supply millions of Pennsylvanians with their water. I invite you and your readers, please, to take a look at the arguments for a moratorium of this drilling which we must implement in order to take the time needed to prove whether this drilling can be done “right” or “responsibly.” http://go.to/stopmarcellus - Stephen Cleghorn, Reynoldsville, PA
Jerry D. Hill December 12, 2011 at 09:23 PM
Check this sight out Cleghorn. http://www.pennlive.com/midstate/index.ssf/2011/12/marcellus_shale_industry_bring.html
Jerry D. Hill December 13, 2011 at 10:45 PM
Here's another one, Cleghorn. http://www.commonwealthfoundation.org/policyblog/blog_detail.asp?id=5478&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+PolicyBlog+%28CF+POLICY+BLOG%29
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 15, 2011 at 12:36 PM
Jerry, I read both your posts. They are about jobs. Yes, there will be jobs. But do any amount of jobs justify running the risk that we will ruin the aquifers over one-half the state of Pennsylvania? Do the current jobs justify the illnesses already being reported by gas field workers and people adjacent to gas field facilities? I repeat: "There does not yet exist a scientific consensus that what we put down into the shale (including extremely toxic, cancer-causing chemicals) or what the drilling mobilizes from the shale (including water-soluble radioactive elements and some of those chemicals) cannot get into groundwater aquifers over time. I challenge anyone – gas companies especially - to show that such a scientific consensus exists." You have not done that. No gas company has yet provided proof of such a scientific consensus. Reports on job creation do not address at all the basic problem that I was bringing to Mr. Sanko's attention.
Jerry D. Hill December 15, 2011 at 12:56 PM
It looks to me like most people, in PA, do not agree with you, Cleghorn. Does that mean that everyone has to bend to the whims of the few? http://www.cumberlink.com/news/local/govt-and-politics/article_5a303972-96bf-11e0-8c6f-001cc4c002e0.html http://www.businessweek.com/ap/financialnews/D9NSBJO00.htm http://ph.news.yahoo.com/poll-strong-support-gas-drilling-pa-135600755.html
Roger December 15, 2011 at 03:01 PM
Cleghorn, your comment makes a common assertion that use of chemicals in the drilling/fracking process will contaminate the aquifer layer. I've followed stories and comments to stories on the MS industry for the past couple of years, and often find these assertions. I have heard many experts tell us why contamination is not possible. I have challenged those making these contamination assertions to explain how it happens. To date, nobody has accepted the challenge. Silence. But, in other stories and comments, I read and hear the same assertions, without any process by which it happens. Why is it OK to run sanitary sewer lines, filled with contamination, next to our water supply lines?
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 15, 2011 at 04:26 PM
All I'm saying, Jerry and Roger, is that we do not have a scientific consensus that this type of drilling cannot cause irreparable harm to our aquifers. Opinion polls are not evidence of much other than the effective and constant media saturation by the gas companies. But let’s get to the really important part. Yes, some scientists say it cannot get into aquifers, but others with deep credibility on this issue say that it can. If you go to my PowerPoint at http://go.to/stopmarcellus there is a section in there that deals with the lack of consensus, and the slides contain links to the reports from credible experts that say that the contamination of aquifers can occur. The EPA report from West Virginia noted in my presentation found a case of aquifer contamination and suggested that many more were likely. I am not just making assertions. I am presenting evidence with sources that can be checked. See http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/04/us/04natgas.html?pagewanted=all And it is worth taking a look at the EPA source document for the case of fracking-related contamination in West Virginia. Scroll down to pages IV-21 and IV-22. Here is that document. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/us/drilling-down-documents-7.html Do that, and then get back to me.
Roger December 16, 2011 at 02:35 PM
Dr Cleghorn, first, my condolences to you on the recent loss of your wife, and partner in your "stop" efforts. I did watch/listen to the one hour, plus, presentation, all 241(?) slides. Obviously, you have put much effort into this presentation. Where are you intending to use this presentation, other than postings like this one? Clearly, the information presented is from one viewpoint. You are certainly entitled to your viewpoint, and to use antidotes and information to support your viewpoint. The word "consensus" is used in your previous post, and is used often in the presentation. Do you really believe that a consensus is possible with this matter? This is why my first response to the initial article, what is "right?" I've had a career in science for several decades. Science was the keystone to my education and career work. I have high regard for the field of science. However, until the past decade, I regarded science as something pretty firm, something that comes from study, observation, testing, physics, and so forth. With the discussions of Global Warming, science started to take on a new importance. Science became an instrument to either execute or reject an ideology, political posture, or agenda. We have Al Gore to thank for this diffusion. Now, these same ideas have spilled into other circles, including MS. Scientific consensus means nothing any longer, nor does peer-review. I deeply regret this change in making scientific work useful.
Roger December 16, 2011 at 02:46 PM
Part 2 I understand the interest in making an industry a public safety issue. But, I have troubles when an industry is singled out, with suggestions about "public good." Our socieity condones lack of "publc good" issues in other circles. Every year, 17,000 people are killed in DUI auto accidents, another 40,000 injured, and millions of dollars lost in productivity. Our response: Ho-hum, we lost another one. We have a socieity in which 30% of our children are considered obese. The adult population is even higher. The health concerns associated with this epidemic are staggering. And, the costs to our society in direct and indirect costs are significant. The trend continues in a steep upward path, which means our citizens are content with this path, and even have more followers. Where is the concern for "public good?" These are only two examples (excessive use of drugs and alcohol is another) of how we view concerns for "public good." Choosing to single our the drilling industry as a problem seems pretty insignificant. There are far bigger issues to get under control than the drilling industry. This is not to condone reckless practices that can be curtailed. Elevating the issue to the level of "stop," is an extreme position. There will never be a concensus. If we only acted on matters that had consensus, nothing would get done. This is especially true where motivated agendas are involved.
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 17, 2011 at 10:55 AM
Roger, Thank you for your sympathy. I do miss Lucinda terribly. And thanks for watching the presentation The presentation http://go.to/stopmarcellus will be used in community meetings, with public officials and broadly over the Internet to provide a warning counter to all the feel-good promotion of the powerful gas industry. "Balance" does not mean both sides weigh the same. It means that both sides of an issue get a full airing, and that is not happening with too many of our state leaders in collusion with the gas industry, denying that anything is wrong, and with the gas industry lobby saturating all the media right down to our children’s coloring books with their A-OK messaging. So my presentation is a sincere attempt to get a balanced discussion going on about this drilling. The risk to PA is quite large. If the gas industry is wrong that the toxic chemicals of drilling and the toxic elements of the shale cannot reach aquifers over time, then 1/2 of the state of Pennsylvania will have water polluted with chemicals that cause cancer and reproductive problems in trace amounts. And many credible scientists with specific expertise in this type of drilling – such as Dr. Ingraffea - believe they are wrong. When that happens the gas companies will be long gone with their profits, and the people of PA will be picking up the tab for a massive clean-up.
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 17, 2011 at 10:56 AM
Part 2 response to Roger: Besides that future risk (and the many confirmed cases of well-water contamination already), pay attention to the current health effects being reported from all over the country. You may say these are anecdotes, but that is partly because no state is doing a comprehensive analysis of health impacts on humans and animals from these gas well facilities. Gas companies have used their influence in state legislatures to block such studies. But when you have hundreds of cases being reported thousands of miles apart with the same symptoms – as I detail in the PowerPoint – then we have a preponderance of evidence that something is quite wrong and needs a comprehensive look. “Stop” is not a radical recommendation in the face of such unknown and poorly understood risks such as those I detail in the presentation (and believe it or not I had to leave some risks out, such as the destruction of wild areas in our forests). There has not even been a decent risk analysis done to quantify whether the risk is low enough to proceed. The Precautionary Principle does not require zero risk. It merely states that if there is sufficient evidence that an activity can cause irreparable harm to the environment or public health, then it falls upon those who undertake such activity to prove that it cannot cause irreparable harm.
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 17, 2011 at 10:59 AM
Part 3 response to Roger: The gas industry in 2005 got itself exempted from federal rules that control the injection of toxic chemicals near freshwater sources. They did that for a reason. If they had not obtained those exemptions, they would have to conduct a comprehensive (and expensive) study of every well they drilled – in order to assure (as they do in “deep injection wells” for toxic waste disposal) that those chemicals could not get into the aquifer. Every Marcellus well is a deep injection well. There will be 150,000 – 200,000 of them drilled into Pennsylvania. Each one should undergo a study to determine if the chemicals will stay down there for the next 10,000 years. The gas industry could not have that. Yes, there are plenty of other problems. But some of these also have a connection to our reliance on fossil fuels. The obesity you mention is directly related to industrialized agriculture that produces monoculture crops based upon a cheap fertilizer derived from fossil fuels. The gas industry brags about how natural gas is turned into fertilizer. But the industrial agricultural system delivers huge commodity crops (like corn) that get turned into highly-sugared products to deliver energy to our bodies.
J. Stephen Cleghorn December 17, 2011 at 11:01 AM
Part 4 response to Roger: Our obesity and Type 2 diabetes problems are directly related to a food system controlled largely by a few large multinational companies. As a person interested in science you may want to read an article called “The Oil We Eat” that appeared in Harpers magazine. http://www.harpers.org/archive/2004/02/0079915 Yet is there anything more basic than access to a clean water supply? Or clean air? That’s what concerns me the most. For issues as basic as these, we need a true scientific consensus, which I think is still possible. I know the politicization of science of which you write, but there is still excellent science being done. We need to apply some of that excellent science to a comprehensive environmental assessment (risk analysis) of the long-term and cumulative impacts of drilling into the shale as we are now doing it. (PS: maybe we better dialogue via email since this means is cumbersome. My email is on the last slide of the presentation.)

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