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Commonwealth Foundation


Natural Gas: Myths v Facts

by Policy Brief
 

The Marcellus Shale formation is believed to be the largest unconventional natural gas reservoir in America, and its exploration has been coined a modern-day gold rush. It has the potential to create 111,000 jobs and contribute $987 million in revenue to Harrisburg by 2011. However, many feel the environmental risks outweigh the potential job growth. This is the first in a series responding to Marcellus Myths and Frequently Asked Questions.

Hydraulic Fracturing is polluting our land and water.

The process of hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" has been utilized for over 60 years. Amazingly, there have been no confirmed cases of groundwater contamination in 1 million applications. This established technology joined with the newer practice of drilling horizontally has made Marcellus Shale extraction both economical and environmentally safe.

Fracking is a process that occurs after the drilling of the well is complete. The shale -- which is more than a mile below the water surface -- is cracked by tiny ruptures, allowing gallons of water, sand, and a small amount (less than 2%) of chemical additives (to keep pipes from rusting) to release natural gas. Most of the chemicals added can be found in common household cleaning supplies. Wells are layered with coatings of cement and steel to prevent natural gas from migrating into groundwater.

Reported contamination has been caused not by hydraulic fracturing, but by the disposal of wastewater or resurfacing of wastewater due to poor well design. As drilling progresses, companies are utilizing more safeguards, such as recycling 100% of wastewater to cut down on trucking, strengthening well casings, and storing wastewater in tanks instead of open pits.

A complete list of the chemicals used in fracking is available online at the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) website. Drilling companies like Range Resources are posting information about their fracking fluids, including the names of chemicals used at each well site, along with their classifications, volumes, dilution factors, and specific purpose. These fact sheets are available for wells drilled since the end of July.

Finally, if hydraulic fracturing does result in land or water pollution, current laws and regulations would not only fine the responsible party, but also would hold it responsible for remediation and restoration.
Is gas drilling polluting and drying up our water sources?

While several cases of water pollution (Dunkard Creek and Monongahela River, for example) have been falsely blamed on gas drilling, these cases were really caused by runoff from coal mines.

Methane migration (methane gas leaking into water wells) occurs when a gas well hits a pocket of naturally-occurring methane gas in the earth, allowing the methane to seep into the soil. While methane migration is a legitimate concern, it bears pointing out that many of Pennsylvania's drinking wells were already contaminated before drilling. It is imperative that water be tested to ensure that residential water wells are protected from any potential contamination, and that residents be made aware of any existing impurities in their water.

Where there has been demonstrated contamination caused by natural gas drilling, gas companies have (and should be required to), installed safer, higher quality drinking wells.

There is concern that the large amount of water needed to frack wells will dry up waterways. Drilling companies must apply for permits to withdraw water from Pennsylvania waterways. The amount of water used by drilling is less than what is needed to irrigate a golf course. And gas drillers are now required to return water to streams with less dissolved minerals and salts than you'd find a bottle of mineral water.

The natural gas industry is exempt from regulation.

Natural gas drillers must comply with eight federal and eleven state acts and laws, and are subject to frequent inspections by the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Pennsylvania now employs 193 drill site inspectors; no state comes close to having a comparable number of oil and gas staff.

The so-called "Halliburton loophole," which exempts hydraulic fracturing from Safe Drinking Water Act regulations, is a misnomer. Drilling is regulated at a number of levels, including state and local government. Hydraulic fracturing and natural gas drilling are overseen by two regional and four states agencies including the DEP, the Fish and Boat Commission, and the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, and regional watershed commissions.

When drillers harm the environment or destroy infrastructure, they are and should be fined, not only to mitigate damage but also to cover the cost of environmental cleanup and make whole any person or entity harmed by the accident.

Truck traffic is destroying local roads.

Road damage and restoration is a legitimate concern in rural areas where most of the drilling is taking place. However, drilling companies are not only held liable for repairing damaged roads, they also are restoring roads into better condition than when they found them.

Many drilling companies are going the extra mile to improve roads. Anadarko, for example, has decided to upgrade roadways rather than make continuous repairs. In Bradford County, Chesapeake Energy already invested $15 million in road repairs, with another $15 million in projects planned before the end of 2010. These investments are saving local governments from spending tax money, and are providing transportation funding far above what these communities receive from the state.

Pennsylvania's natural beauty is being plundered.

Opponents often argue that drilling on state lands will endanger environmentally sensitive areas and harm the timber and tourism industries.
While the Marcellus boom is relatively recent, drilling on state land is nothing new. State forest lands have been open for drilling for decades; over 1,600 wells are already in place and there has been no unremediated contamination.

Additionally, only 700,000 acres of state land are available for leasing, leaving over two-thirds of our state land untouched. To further minimize the impact of drilling, new wells are being located in old clearings created for wells decades ago.

The effects on forest lands will be minimal because of the horizontal drilling technique, which allows multiple wells to be located on the same pad, reducing the amount of land disturbance. Further, drillers are required by law to restore land with vegetation within 9 months after a well is completed.

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For more facts on Natural Gas and other energy issues, visit EnergyFactsPA.com.
EnergyFactsPa is a project of the Commonwealth Foundation (CommonwealthFoundation.org), an independent, non-profit public policy research and educational institute based in Harrisburg, PA.


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