by Engineer Of Knowledge
The natural gas industry’s drilling into the Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania and neighboring states along the Appalachian Mountains are at the forefront of many conversations in the state and the country today. With drilling supporter Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett calling for the commonwealth to become the “Texas of the Marcellus Shale boom” and a GOP legislature, the industry has political support in Harrisburg secured.
The natural gas boom is already underway in the 400 million year old Marcellus shale reserves beneath Pennsylvania. That boom is apparent on a hilltop about an hour from Wilkes-Barre, Pa., where the farmland and forest give way to a brand new industrial site known as the Lathrop compressor station. It’s a collection of pipes and compressors that help move natural gas from local wells to market. The Manager for Williams Companies Inc., Michael Dickinson, has stated, “There are about 75 wells behind this particular station, and plans to double that over the next couple of years.” The company operates two compressor stations in Pennsylvania, with plans to add three more. It’s also building a new 30-mile stretch of pipeline to transport natural gas on to Philadelphia and New York City. Dickinson has given the comparison of, “Those pipelines are kind of like the railroads are to the coal industry, or the high line wires are to the electricity industry.” “We have to have those pipelines, that infrastructure, to get this gas to the place that it can be used.”
As far as the technology, I would favor natural gas electric generation over coal generation or nuclear power generation. Energy experts say the accident at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant in Japan will likely put the brakes on plans for additional nuclear power plants, at least in the short run.
Natural gas is relatively clean and cheap to burn while environmental regulations in the U.S. make new coal plants unlikely. Even though I am an advocate for renewable power sources like solar and wind but they are just not ready to satisfy the current demand for electricity. So I predict the accelerated development of natural gas in Pennsylvania, as the future source of energy in the U.S.
At this point we need to take into consideration the questions that continue to be raised about the impact on the environment, especially water. Today there are uncomfortable questions coming to light by those investigative reporting on fracking the Marcellus Shale. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is embarking on a new review of the impacts from the industry on local water supplies and spill concerns.
Here in lies the problem. The Marcellus shale runs from Kentucky to upstate New York, and contains one of the largest natural gas reserves in the world, although the gas has been difficult to extract until recently. In order to get natural gas out of the Marcellus shale, drillers have to use a process known as hydraulic fracturing or fracking. This technology produces lots of wastewater, which critics fear will contaminate drinking water supplies.
Those concerns got a lot of attention in the movie, “Gasland,” director Josh Fox’s Oscar-nominated documentary. The natural gas industry and state regulators denounced the film as misleading and one-sided. But those who study the industry say you can’t dismiss its claims entirely as there have been some environmental incidents. Noted mass kills of aquatic wildlife have been attributive to the waste by products being forced to the surface and the cracking of the rock have allows this waste to be pushed to the surface. The Gas Industry says they can plug these holes when they occur but we are talking about holes looking more like Swiss Cheese instead of a single hole. So again I ask at what true cost is this technology really going to cost if it is done correctly for the health of the people and environment. What we need to do is make sure we do have the proper regulations in place, make sure the companies are using the best available technologies.
For now, regulators in New York have put a moratorium on new gas wells while they study the environmental impact. In Pennsylvania, Corbett created a commission to explore whether new regulations are necessary. The group will report back to him this summer. But Pennsylvania regulators may have to work fast, because no one expects the natural gas industry to wait.
In conclusion I ask, “What is the true cost to responsibly extract this gas energy source and in this current economic atmosphere how much will we accept the negative health and environmental aspects to overlook this technology for the sake of jobs?”