Beware the gift horse

Posted by By at 23 July, at 13 : 51 PM Print

Never look a gift horse in the mouth. My mother used to say that.

The Trojans might have done well to ignore the advice. Had they looked their gift horse in the mouth, they would have noticed a belly full of ache.

Sometimes the Marcellus Shale situation feels like that.

Penn State University published a report Wednesday that seemed to say the Marcellus Shale industry has, or will, single-handedly employ anyone in Pennsylvania who wants a job. The industry-sponsored study reports natural gas production from Marcellus Shale could be providing a quarter of the nation’s natural gas by 2020.

At the beginning of 2010, all the wells in the state were producing 1.3 billion cubic feet of gas, about a third more than had been predicted. By the end of the year, the industry was producing 2 billion cubic feet, and the number of wells and amount of production continue to increase beyond initial expectations. For now, an inestimable reservoir of gas has the state positioned squarely on top of the goose’s golden egg.

Friday, the Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission published its list of recommendations purported to keep us all safe and financially well off for at least the next 25 years, maybe 50, maybe longer.

“Today, Pennsylvania is taking an important, first step toward creating tens of thousands of jobs and leading the nation toward energy independence and doing so in an environmentally responsible way,” a press release from the Department of Environmental Protection quoted Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley.

Cawley is chairman of a 30-member Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission appointed in March by Gov. Tom Corbett. The commission approved a long list of nearly 100 recommendations at its July 15 meeting. The findings were presented to Corbett, who will present at least some of them to the legislature, where they may become law.

The recommendations included increasing the distance between gas well sites and streams, private wells and public water systems; tougher water resource protection standards and higher civil and criminal penalties for violators; training Pennsylvanians to work in the industry; and developing so-called “Green Corridors” for natural gas-powered vehicles.
Also included was a recommendation for an impact fee, but only for townships and counties where drilling actually is taking place, and only for expenses that can be proven to be caused by the industry. Similarly, another recommendation would have PennDOT invoice well operators for improvements to roads over which they haul equipment, but only after traffic studies have determined how much of the total traffic is industry related.

And “forced pooling” would allow drillers to extract gas from wells mounted on land adjacent to land whose owner has declined to allow drilling.

In the end, the picture being painted is a rosy one. Marcellus Shale, and other natural gas producing shale deposits across the nation, has the potential to assume a significant portion of the United States’ fossil-fuel requirements.

The New York Post reported Friday morning that the state’s governor was impressed by the promise of the Penn State report. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has appointed his own Marcellus Shale commission to begin the move to repeal a moratorium on Marcellus drilling in the Empire State. Cuomo is convinced drilling can be done in New York while protecting the state’s water supplies.
To aid in that endeavor, the Post reported, he has appointed a 13-member advisory group “of nationally recognized experts,” including Robert Kennedy Jr. Kennedy is an environmental attorney and president of Waterkeeper Alliance, an international organization with roots in protecting the Hudson River from pollution.

What remains in both states is for the state legislatures to come up with a set of enforceable regulations that will allow the industry to turn a profit without destroying the resources that provide that profit – and home to several million owners of the Common Wealth.

The rest of us might wonder how long that will take. In Pennsylvania, where even the industry recognizes the need for stronger regulations, drilling is well underway. We should encourage our legislators to quickly ensure our gift horse does not become a Trojan one.

Photo by Tom Owad
This post was written by:
- who has written 169 posts for Rock The Capital
John Messeder is an award winning journalist with more than 35 years experience writing about education, environment and local government issues. He has lived in Maine, Florida, California and Alaska, and, by temporary turns, numerous places in between. John also is an accomplished photographer, and avid hiker, conservationist, oral history buff, and author of several books he has not yet got 'round to writing. He lives in Adams County, Pa., just over a hill from Gettysburg, with his wife and Golden Retriever. He may be contacted at - Email jmesseder

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