Rather than take a cautious, scientific approach, Pennsylvania’s top officials saw dollar signs and essentially threw open the doors of the commonwealth several years ago to the natural gas industry.
Drillers assured that their deep-earth work was safe, posing little risk to water supplies or people.
Landmen working on behalf of the fuel-extraction companies convinced property owners to sign on the dotted line, promising a stream of royalties.
Policymakers swooned over the possibility of rock-bottom fuel prices, which they said would lure new businesses to the Keystone State and spark an explosion of job opportunities for area residents.
The reality today — as with boom-bust stories as old as gold rushes and timber frenzies — should cause you to question what you were initially told about the Marcellus Shale, how the state should proceed from here and your responsibility to future generations of Pennsylvania residents.
Last week, the state Auditor General’s Office raised concerns about Pennsylvania’s ability to properly police the drilling industry. Its report, examining the Department of Environmental Protection’s operations between 2009 and 2012, found inconsistencies in the way the department handled citizen complaints against drillers and poor public communication about its investigations.
DEP suffers from a “lack of resources — including staff and a modern information technology system — and inconsistent or failed implementation of department policies,” said Auditor General Eugene DePasquale in a statement.
This new report about Pennsylvania’s oversight of its natural resource and the companies that covet it is only the latest in a growing field of red flags.
Yes, some people and businesses have profited mightily from the industry’s blitz below privately owned and public lands. Certain towns, especially in the state’s northern tier, have seen a revival of sorts, with once-empty main streets again humming with activity. Home heating bills dropped, at least for a while.
But disconcerting news about the industry continues to creep out to state residents like an ever-expanding pipeline.
Some homeowners say the predrill water tests for which they paid, and in which they put their faith, were later labeled inaccurate by the drilling industry and disregarded. Other people report drinking supplies forever spoiled. Gov. Tom Corbett and others closely allied with the industry support the continued encroachment of drilling apparatus below the people’s communal property: state forests and parks. Lawsuits arise over disputed royalty payments. Health advocates, meanwhile, say drilling-related data is incomplete and, in some instances, gag orders on doctors prevent a full discussion of findings. And, some fuel companies are pushing for permission to pipe natural gas to U.S. ports on the Eastern Seaboard, from where it will be shipped to nations in Asia and elsewhere.
Is this the “energy revolution” you envisioned when drilling proponents first touted the Marcellus Shale?
For residents of northeastern Pennsylvania, the whole thing increasingly smacks of an ugly episode alluded to by Supreme Court Chief Justice Ronald Castille in December. Castille was among the majority in ruling that portions of the state’s Marcellus Shale drilling law, Act 13, were unconstitutional.
“By any responsible account,” he wrote, “the exploitation of the Marcellus Shale formation will produce a detrimental effect on the environment, on the people, their children, and the future generations, and potentially on the public purse, perhaps rivaling the environmental effects of coal extraction.”
Do Pennsylvanians really want to make those mistakes again? Or have we learned?