The Un-Balanced Sheet, by S. Thomas Bond,
Newsletter, Guardians of the West Fork Watershed
It’s clear by this time that the Marcellus development is being promoted with a balance sheet that has only one side, assets. Liabilities are never mentioned. You read about all the money that will flow, the growth that will result, vague projections for a golden future, largely unquantified. The degradation of resources and the influence on people is never mentioned by the developers.
So what are these costs? In the case of the Marcellus, one is the very resource being extracted. The resource is fantastically large, but only 10% is removed, 90 % is left behind, degraded. The problem with virgin Marcellus is to bring the gas up from a mile or more deep. When it has been drilled by present methods the problem is to bring it up from a mile deep when the earth below has been saturated with water and chemicals.
The water pressure at the bottom of a well is much the same as it is that far down in the ocean. This restrains the production of gas now, and makes an additional, very serious problem, for secondary recovery in future generations. Marcellus extraction is grab it now, as much as you can, to hell with tomorrow. Executives claim there are no environmental problems. A recent article in an oil and gas trade magazine begins:
“Misrepresentation building in the eastern US threatens to limit a technology-based, multiple-location gas play that’s reshaping energy markets in the ways that benefit US interests such as national security, air quality, employment, and tax receipts. It’s the allegation that drilling and completing wells in gas-bearing shales threaten subsurface supplies of drinking water. If not discredited, repeated falsehoods will coalesce into a political force able to stop the most promising development in generations for US energy supply.”
The notion that water on the surface and in aquifers do not get contaminated has been disproven over and over again. The “easily imagined menace” as the author of the article calls it, is a fact on the ground. There is a regular constellation of problems that occurs everywhere horizontal wells with hydraulic fracturing occur. It not only includes water contamination and damage to streams by removing too much water and dumping in them, but also air and noise pollution, large disturbed surface areas, rural roads crowded and destroyed, and large demands on local services that the drilling companies do not pay for. And very serious health problems. Although reliable observers, primary care physicians are quite unlikely to publish their cases, and there is no agency collecting data, nor any likely to be in the present regulatory atmosphere if it must be paid for by government!
This is the way coal was promoted, too. No one ever looked at the decades of mine water, now being slowly remediated at public expense, nor the subsidence, nor the toll of miners, nor the blighted communities which take many decades to recover when the mines play out. The “big boys” got away with the money, though. The Marcellus will play out, too. Probably in half a lifetime, the way the game is now being played, in little longer time at best. The rate of decline of shale wells is notorious – the fantastic early production is very brief. The decline is usually presented on a logarithmic graph by the industry, in terms of months. This is a tool to fool the unwary. 50 to 60% of the production is in the first year, less time than it takes to get the investment, get a permit and bring the well into production. The well is exhausted in a few more years.
Remember the early coal industry? Lots of jobs alright, but deadening, routine jobs where people and families had to turn into themselves to survive. No opportunity to travel, no opportunity to enjoy the better things of life, no opportunity to educate their children and most of all, no chance to change their circumstances. Technically they could leave, but the absence of surplus resources, the absence of other experience and contact with the outside held them to the mining towns like serfs on a medieval manor.
This time it won’t be as bad. But the jobs provided by Marcellus will be similar. Deadening, dangerous work, long hours with work in all kinds of weather. Kinds of work that make it difficult to change to other work. Mineral resource development doesn’t lead to a vibrant economy for the area where extraction takes place, the long term benefits go elsewhere. Marcellus will keep Appalachia right where it is in the national scheme of things, a sort of internal third world nation.
And look at our government! We are as helpless as the people in the Niger delta, Peru, or the Middle East. Was there advance planning to effectively utilize the resource, to regulate the industry to protect other interests, to minimize damage to us natives? Not on your life! Perhaps the most damning thing is that the most important force changing our future that could be controlled in the state was effectively bypassed by our government.
The governor couldn’t see fit to call a special session for a few days to iron out regulations for the industry. Why? The best indication is that at least one legislator relates he has been openly threatened that he will never be elected to another term because of his support for regulation. Doubtless, this runs all the way up to the Top Man. Can it be that other legislators are unaware of the same for themselves? ”A politicians first duty is to get himself reelected,” they say. Will historians of the future look back and see funds for his campaign are more important to most politicians than his/her record of public service.
Guardians of the West Fork Watershed • 830 Benoni Ave • Fairmont, WV