Imagine a vein of gold being discovered under the building of the Philadelphia School District. Even given the crushing budget shortfall of the schools, it’s unlikely the money from mining that gold would go directly to fill the district’s coffers. More likely, it would be directed to the general public coffers, because the public coffers are what keep the district running. The gold belongs to all of us.
That’s why the windfall that the Pittsburgh Airport is about to receive from gas drilling is so puzzling. Any day, wells on the 9,000 acres surrounding the airport will begin drilling the stores of shale under the airport. The deal is expected to bring more than $20 million a year to prop up the airport.
When the drilling deal was first discussed, proper questions were raised about where the money would go; the airport is owned by Allegheny County. A decline in flights and the consolidation of airlines has the airport, which derives its income from retail and airline leases, faltering financially. Enter the frackers, and then the Federal Aviation Administration, which claimed that income derived from the airport must stay at the airport. That ought to rankle the residents of the county, if not of the state.
This is just the latest in a series of dubious decisions and directions related to fracking in the state. Earlier this year, Gov. Tom Corbett lifted a moratorium on drilling on state lands, including game and park land.
One environmental group has sued to stop the drilling. Such drilling not only has the potential to alter the landscape, but nearly a million acres is already subject to drilling, and some claim it’s already having a negative effect on wildlife.
The race to drill the state is especially troubling given how little time is spent studying fracking’s effect, and how little drillers pay the state for the privilege.
Last week, a group of health professionals raised questions about the Corbett administration’s handling of the questions raised by fracking. They accuse the administration of directing state Health Department officials not to pay attention to calls from those with health problems or concerns.
Fracking shoots chemicals and water at extreme pressure into the ground, to fracture, or “frack,” the shale and release the natural gas. Drillers pay only fees, not taxes, unlike all the other states in which fracking occurs. Public health experts bemoan the lack of long-term health studies on the effects of fracking. And, most outrageously, a health registry that would record and analyze complaints that was part of recommendations of a governor’s commission was abandoned because the $2 million it would cost was deemed too expensive.
When the state legalized gambling, it created a set of policies and regulations that involved high taxes for the gaming companies, with shares going to host cities and the bulk divided among a range of programs and tax deductions that benefited those throughout the state. Even more important, the Gaming Control Board was established to strictly monitor gambling and its effect.
Too bad the same approach wasn’t adopted when the state went crazy for fracking — especially because there’s potentially even more at stake. Corbett’s fervor for drilling without proper controls is an increasingly bad gamble.