Hot Topics & Opinions: Ban, Regulate, Drill / Frack, Crack, or Pipeline

by Duane Nichols on August 18, 2011

The City of Morgantown is still under pressure to ban fracking within the City limits and out one mile, given the voices of the residents at the last City Council meeting and the Morgantown Dominion-Post editorial “We respectfully object, your honor.”  The local newspaper says that the City should appeal the decision of the Monongalia Circuit Court of August 12th that overturned the City ordinance.  Surely municipalities can regulate activities within their own borders, one would think.

Next, Sen. Doug Facemire, D-Braxton, said Wednesday that emergency rules ordered last month by acting Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin – which are not yet in effect – will be enough to tide the state over until lawmakers meet early next year. He is co-chair of the Joint Legislative Select Marcellus Gas Committee.  The other co-chair, Delegate Tim Manchin, D-Marion, says that the Committee should meet and ask for a Special Session to put permanent Marcellus regulations into force yet this year.

Drilling and fracking are continuing here in West Virginia and in many of the counties of Pennsylvania that border West Virgina, mainly Washington, Greene and Fayette Counties.  Most of the Marcellus gas is “wet” containing ethane and higher hydrocarbons.  Gov. Tomblin, the Legislature, and County Commissioners are promoting a petrochemical plant in West Virginia that would crack the ethane into ethylene, then react the ethylene to make many different products. Many gas companies are planning pipelines to send the ethane to the Gulf Coast (and perhaps on to foreign countries) or to Canada for cracking and petrochemical production.

So what is the rush to drill for gas?  Haven’t we learned anything from our past mistakes? These questions are asked by Dr. Bernard Goldstein, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Public Health. The health effects of drilling, fracking, pipelining, cracking, etc., are still a serious consideration. It is not reasonable to turn off wells that are already extracting natural gas. “But, recognizing that the risk to our health and natural resources (water, land, air) increases with every new well, that information and technology is on the way to lower the risk and that the natural gas will not go anywhere, Pennsylvania should join other states, including New York and Maryland, in not drilling new wells for now.”

Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D., is a professor of Environmental and Occupational Health at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health and the school’s former dean. He is the former assistant administrator for research and development at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and he is an elected member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies.

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