NOTE: The following guest editorial was published well over a year ago, but is still relevant.
Publication: The Morgantown Dominion Post; Date: March 13, 2011;
Section: Opinion; Page Number: 2-D; GUEST COMMENTARY:
Authority on Marcellus shale not telling all
BY S. THOMAS BOND
Authority is part of the problem with Marcellus shale drilling. The industry members are very connected, very disciplined, very motivated and they are assuring the public that there is no problem with the methods of drilling, and what’s called “due diligence.”
On the other hand, the complaints come from people who are rural, many of whom lack education and who don’t “network” with political power.
But they have the “facts on the ground” to use a current phrase. You can visit them, because they have time and lots of motivation to talk. Authority — real authority at the top — doesn’t converse with individuals. It hires someone else to do that.
You also can see pictures of the damage, and there is actually a vast amount of literature going back to the time horizontal drilling and slick water fracturing began. For example, yesterday a friend sent me an article about Marcellus wells leaking in Quebec, and how that was changing the Canadian government’s view of Marcellus development. I remembered an earlier article, so Googled “leaking Marcellus wells” and got more than 300,000 articles on leaking Marcellus wells. By adding “Quebec” to the query I was able to find the case the friend was referring to, which involved 19 out of 31 wells.
There are many groups who could put inquiring individuals in contact with folks whose property or lives have been damaged, more than one would have time to contact. I know a forester, people who have retired from other states and even a state Division of Environmental Protection employee who have had problems. Contacting people is slow, laborious work — looking at their claims. But these are the “facts on the ground” that contravene the propaganda that nothing is wrong in the oil patch.
The New York Times is running a series of articles on the Marcellus. They have tremendous resources and the series is comprehensive. One of the most telling articles is “Pressure limits efforts to police drilling for gas” by Ian Urbana, published March 3, 2011. It concerns the industry effort to remain unregulated by the federal government.
The industry knows what it is doing. There is no more telling indication of that than the exemptions for the drilling industry built into the Energy Act of 2005. Former Vice President Dick Cheney marshaled a commission to study energy needs, and the resulting bill exempted the drilling industry from the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Brownfields Act, the last of which requires the industry make a toxic mess to clean it up.
Environmentalism is often cast as people with sentimental attachment to trees and birds and landscapes. However, at a more fundamental level, it has to do with preserving resources for the future. Recorded history goes back about 8,000 years. Hopefully there will be something here for people to live on thousands of years in the future.
Environmentalism is about avoiding degradation of land, water and air so they can be used in the future. There surely will be life beyond the end of current business deals. Landowners and environmentalists are natural allies in their concerns about the damage going on.
So the debate involves two kinds of authority, the authority of a well-organized group with a lot to gain, who have wealth, public relations and political influence, and gains to society now, on the one hand; and on the other, a huge, unorganized and disconnected group, some of whom have much to lose, and others who have everything to lose, plus perpetual gains to society in the future. The facts lie with the latter, and all the industry can do is to delay public awareness.
S. THOMAS BOND is a retired teacher with a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry. He is a member of the Guardians of the West Fork and Monongahela Area Watershed Compact. He lives near Jane Lew. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Morgantown Dominion Post.