Citing a lack of regulations to complain about, a U.S. District Court judge Monday ruled against a requirement for a full environmental review of fracking in the Delaware River Basin.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania townships await a ruling by that stateâ€™s top court that may determine whether traditional municipal control over zoning applies to the controversial method of producing natural gas from deep underground shale.
Fracking involves drilling several thousand feet vertically, then turning the drill bit horizontally to drill more than 10,000 feet. Then a soup comprising up to 12 million gallons of fresh water, specially treated sand, and a stock of chemicals is pumped into the horizontal leg at great pressure, shattering the deep shale and releasing gas that formed millions of years ago from decaying flora.
The controversy arises over how much hazard the fracking soup places on humans and other creatures living on the surface. The industry has been plagued by failing concrete well liners, which have allowed gases to migrate into drinking water layers closer to the surface.
Also, when the gas is released, it heads for the surface with explosive force, pushing before it the frack soup used to shatter the rock. In several instances, soup intended to be captured at the surface has instead been spilled on the ground, with deleterious effects on animal mortality and, occasionally, requirements for drinking water to be delivered to communities which previously had depended on private wells.
The Delaware River watershed provides drinking water to about 15 million people, including populations of Philadelphia and half of New York City. More than one-third of the watershed is home to Marcellus Shale, the natural gas-rich region beneath large portions of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio and West Virginia.
Currently, a moratorium on fracking has been established by the Delaware River Basin Commission while it establishes regulations to control the gas production process. A vote scheduled to adopt proposed regulations last year has been postponed for additional review, and a new vote date has not been set.
Which brings us to Mondayâ€™s district court ruling. Judge Nicholas Garaufus said a lawsuit filed by the New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to require a full environmental review before allowing fracking in the watershed was speculative. Since there were no regulations, there was no way of knowing whether they would be sufficient to protect those served by watershed water.
In other words, it seems, donâ€™t worry about all those potential poisons until regulations have been developed to govern their creation and use. And pay no attention to the new EPA regulations requiring producers to trap leaking methane before it has chance to become part of a blanket of greenhouse gases, elevating global temperatures, exploding mosquito populations, raising ocean levels and shutting down electricity generating plants because the water they use to cool themselves is not cool enough to cool themselves. The new regs may eliminate all previous concerns.
In February, a New York State Supreme Court justice ruled towns in that state had authority to limit or ban fracking within their boundaries.
Pennsylvania had such a codified tradition, stating essentially that all municipalities must provide for all legal land uses, putting them where they wished â€“ until fracking, and its promise of instant wealth and implication of 100 percent employment.
The stateâ€™s Act 13 of 2012, also known as House Bill 1950, set some safety requirements, established a minimal impact fee on natural gas producers â€“ and took away zoning authority from the stateâ€™s townships and boroughs. If Chesapeake Energy or Range Resources want to establish a well a couple hundred feet from a school, said the legislature and its governor, Chesapeake or Range Resources get to establish a well a couple hundred feet from a school.
Zoning is meant to provide for organized land development, keeping, for instance, a housing development from butting against a cattle barn. but Act 13 allows a fracking well to be established in, and its pipelines under, a residential development. A suit to determine the legality of that law awaits a decision by the state’s supreme court.
Meanwhile, natural gas production already has been so effective that the market has been glutted, with resulting low prices causing coal-fired electricity generators to switch to the oft-touted cleaner fuel. Gas sellers shower the televised airways beseeching residents to trade their current household energy sources for â€ścleaner, cheaper natural gas.â€ť There is no more effective method for increasing prices than increasing demand.
And Chesapeake Energy is in constrictive financial straits, over-extended amid lowering gas prices, and facing legal problems stemming from accusations the gas giant colluded with another producer to set land leases.
Interesting times are among us, and always the question just below the monied surface: is this stuff really safe enough to justify the temporary riches?
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