Friday, April 22, 2011

A heckuva week for Marcellus Shale reporters

For the past few years Marcellus Shale has been a fixture in the Pennsylvania headlines: to tax or not to tax, what exactly is fracking, and are we growing jobs for Pennsylvanians or borrowing workers from other states?

This week has been an especially busy one for shale-related stories.

Gov. Corbett kicked it off Monday when he told a gathering of township supervisors in Hershey, “I will not let them [gas drillers] poison our water.” And in what had to be a Homer Simpson “D’oh” moment while Corbett’s words still lingered in the air, Tuesday a Chesapeake Energy (Oklahoma City, OK) well exploded in Bradford County, forcing evacuations and releasing  drilling fluid (the chemically-treated variety) across the terrain.

Don’t worry though, the company responsible for the spill said initial tests indicated the blowout had little impact on local waterways. It now seems however, that Chesapeake’s conclusion was premature, and they now have voluntarily suspended fracking at all their wells in PA, and DEP is awaiting test results on the local water supply.

Earlier on Tuesday, the AP reported that DEP has asked the largely out-of-state natural gas industry to stop sending its contaminated water to 15 of the Commonwealth’s treatment facilities, claiming they’re simply not equipped to treat the tainted water which eventually makes it to our rivers and streams. The state agency set a May 19 deadline for the industry to stop…in others words, we know you are poisoning our water, but go ahead and keep poisoning it for another 30 days. No report if the DEP’s request ended with “pretty please with a cherry on top.”

The DEP request  came not a moment too soon since the industry group Marcellus Shale Coalition, reported the same day that it believes wastewater from drilling is at least partially responsible for heightened levels of bromide in Pittsburgh-area rivers.

Call it unfortunate timing but even with a well blowout and admitted pollution this week, the Pennsylvania Game Commission announced on Wednesday that natural gas companies deserve more access to our valuable shale formation and opted to lease additional state lands to Marcellus Shale drillers for over $18 million which will remain in the Game Commission coffers.

The drilling industry has repeatedly demonstrated they require more oversight. We need to adopt a zero tolerance pollution policy. Maybe revenue generated from a severance tax could go toward increased monitoring, enforcement, and clean up of spills, unfortunately for current Pennsylvanians and the future of our Commonwealth, the governor took a “no tax pledge.”