By John Quigley
Pennsylvania’s history is punctuated by waves of natural resource extraction. From Drake’s first oil well in Titusville…to the early exploration for natural gas…to the timbering over of millions of acres to fuel the early days of the Industrial Revolution…to the rise of King Coal.
In each case, Pennsylvania got it wrong, privatizing profits and socializing costs.
Our state’s environment was blighted with uncounted unplugged wells, hundreds of thousands of acres of abandoned mine lands, 5,000 miles of polluted streams, and a multi-billion dollar, perpetual clean-up bill. Communities were blighted and public health was damaged.
And now we have the natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica formations.
Their telltale footprint dwarfs all of Pennsylvania’s previous waves of resource extraction.
The aerial extent of each illustrates the magnitude of our challenge.
Consider the relatively small areas of oil extraction (light and dark green) in the map below. The pink and red areas represent areas of previous exploration for natural gas. This activity was concentrated in the western third of the state…
Pennsylvania’s lumbering era was focused in the Northern Tier….
Soft coal was/is mined in western Pennsylvania…Anthracite in narrow bands in the east, to devastating effect…
But Marcellus underlies two thirds of Pennsylvania…and at least one of every four acres in Pennsylvania is now under lease for natural gas drilling…pipelines and roads will follow…
And the Utica Shale beneath Marcellus underlies even more of Pennsylvania…
We could be drilling for many decades to come in Pennsylvania.
The cumulative impacts of the Marcellus/Utica Era will dwarf all of Pennsylvania’s previous waves of resource extraction combined (http://pennfuture.blogspot.com/2011/06/adding-up-impacts.html).
How and where – and why – we drill are key.
We must learn from Pennsylvania’s history. We can extract the gas safely and capture all of the economic, environmental, public health, and climate benefits – with the right regulations, enforcement, monitoring, and taxation.