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Thuggery, Hype, and Reason–The Marcellus Shale in Three Acts

The demonization of Pennsylvania’s biggest industrial phenomenon in the last 50 years continues. This time, it’s not just hyperventilating environmentalists getting into the act, it’s gubernatorial candidate Dan Onorato (D):

First the thuggery…

Democratic gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato says he’d pressure natural gas drilling companies to hire Pennsylvania residents by threatening to withhold state drilling permits.


Onorato says he’d be justified to use permits as leverage, arguing, “I think all governors apply pressure on every industry. The whole idea of being governor is you try to bring jobs and improve the economy of your state. We have a golden opportunity here, with the Marcellus Shale find. But we get one chance to get it right.”

The problem is, Onorato’s idea isn’t legal. “It’s not what we do,” says Governor Rendell. “And you might be able to do that, but you’d probably have to change some regulations or get some legislation.”

OK–when Ed Rendell suggests to you that something is illegal, that should be your signal to back away slowly and not make any sudden moves.

Actually, this is a real shame. I like Onorato and have even had some personal dealings with him where I thought he was both fair and open-minded. This kind of thing is, frankly, beneath him, and is exactly the kind of sleazy crap that everybody’s sick of.

Now on to the hype. The P-G never disappoints. From Saturday’s letters to the editor, we get this gem:

The Marcellus Shale drilling plans of the carpetbagger natural gas interests are going to create disasters for many Pennsylvania communities.

Our most precious water supplies are being totally put at risk. Pennsylvania politicians sit idly by, doing nothing to stop this attack upon our commonwealth.

It is not a matter if such disasters occur, but when and how many times.

The promise of economic benefit to Pennsylvanians is only a pipe dream to mollify those who think such financial gain would justify the ecological risks.

Come on, people, wake up! Get our state politicos to get with it and put a complete halt to this; otherwise thousands of Pennsylvanians will have to deal with poisoned water supplies.

This is the Silent Spring of the 2010 decade !


For the love of Pete man, calm down. Zoloft. Seriously. Like 50 mg is all you need. It’s heaven in a little pill.

What amazes me is the accusations of “carpetbagging” that are thrown at natural gas drillers. First of all, has anyone actually looked to see how many jobs are out there because of natural gas drilling? A quick search on lists about four pages of natural-gas related jobs in Pennsylvania posted by one company in the last 30 days. And has anyone ever stopped to think about Pennsylvania’s long history of oil and gas drilling? Perhaps if we hadn’t driven all those jobs away to places like Texas, we would still have people living in Pennsylvania who know how to drill.

And finally, reason. Also from Saturday’s P-G:

The Environmental Protection Agency recently held a meeting at Southpointe in Washington County to receive public testimony on the possible negative effects of hydraulic fracturing on fresh water. I spoke and was received with a chorus of boos from the crowd because I presented a factually based argument in support of hydraulic fracturing.

Based on my own research, more than 48,000 wells have been hydraulically fractured to date in Pennsylvania. Other studies have estimated that more than 1 million wells have been fracked throughout the United States since 1960. Yet not one case of fresh water pollution by hydraulic fracturing has been documented. This is a large enough database to conclude that it is highly unlikely that any future contamination will occur.

Physics also dictates that fractures created at depth do not reach the water table, which has been verified in lab and field tests. Upward growth of induced fractures cannot reach above about 2,000 feet in depth — approximately 1,500 feet below the deepest fresh water. Below 2,000 feet, fractures in the Appalachian Basin for geological reasons are propagated vertically in a general northeast-southwest direction. Above 2,000 feet, the basin’s geological characteristics stop fractures by forcing them to move horizontally.

It is physically impossible to force a vertical fracture upward from the Marcellus Shale to shallow fresh water layers. And no matter how hard anti-Marcellus zealots try to connect hydraulic fracturing to the contamination of fresh water, they won’t be able to do so unless they repeal the laws of physics.

The writer is a petroleum geologist

Holy crap! These are actual facts based on real science articulated by someone who has a background in the subject! Sanity–so refreshing ™.

As an aside, I’ve met Greg Wrightstone, and he is a terrific guy. He heads up an organization called the Pennsylvania Coalition for Responsible Government. Check it out.

July 31, 2010 at 6:43 pm
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