Appalachian Basin

Don’t Believe the Anti-Hype: Natural Gas Development Is Safe

I would first like to introduce myself and list my qualifications for the opinions, based on facts, which I will be proposing.  I am, by training and education, an “environmental scientist” – as opposed to an “environmentalist” or an “environmental activist” – having my degree in biology and working most recently in wetland mitigation, permitting and various aspects of environmental and ecological consulting and planning.  I have spent many years in the field as a consultant and presently own an ecological and environmental planning company in Orange County, New York.  Presently we do some consulting work for one of the smaller gas companies in Central New York.  I also grew up, and still have family, in Western Pennsylvania where many gas companies are currently tapping the Marcellus Shale. (More after the jump)

As a consultant I have seen firsthand that most companies are acting in a responsible manner and are doing their best in the engineering and planning stages to prevent environmental problems.  Of course, there are problems that arise despite these efforts and they must be addressed and dealt with.  Larger problems, often caused by the occasional unscrupulous contractor, or gas company, can make for sensational headlines and cause people to cough up more money for the “greenies” wishing to stop natural gas development. Of course, one needs to keep in mind that these stories create headlines because they are the exceptions rather than the rule.

The Anti’s want everyone to believe that gas companies are drilling wells wherever they want with complete disregard for the environment. Indeed that idea is weaved throughout much of their narrative. I tell you from experience this is pure fantasy.  The fact is, this is an extremely regulated industry and many proposed well-sites are abandoned due to environmental concerns before development even occurs. There is a very concerted process in place that governs any well site.  First, a geologist reviews the data and determines the best location to drill a well. Then a team does field reconnaissance for environmental factors such as wetlands, wildlife, streams, and additional considerations.   Nowadays, natural gas companies even employ archaeologists to ensure the proposed site is not historically significant and is not likely to contain and historical artifacts.  Finally, if a site passes the initial environmental assessment and these tests, then the surveyors come in and a complete survey of the well pad area and needed access roads.

The well pad sites and access road are completely engineered with a grading plan and a stormwater management plan. All of this information is then submitted to the state for review to obtain the necessary permits. During the construction of the well pad and access road, a certified stormwater inspector visits the site on a weekly basis and keeps a log of the environmental conditions they witness. This log is kept on site and the state can request it at any time.  At any point in this process, if any significant problem arises or is found, the permits can be denied or pulled and the site shut down immediately.

It is important to note these sites can and do co-exist with nature.  I have personally observed cows grazing by producing gas wells with no problems or health issues.  In fact, the natural gas industry in many cases has allowed family farms to continue, and thrive, avoiding bankruptcy during these bad economic times. It also has helped Pennsylvania’s economy which I see when I visit friends and family there.  In PA, businesses from auto repair shops to convenience stores are seeing the benefit of the industry.  Here, the reach is wide, people are working, and their economy does not look so bleak.

If nobody wants anything if their back yard as seems to be the goal of natural gas detractors, then where do we expect to work? I grew up on a small family farm in Westmoreland County, PA. My brothers and sisters and I ended up having to move away to get work once we graduated. The farm had to be sold because there was no one left to work it.

Hopefully with natural gas development the next generation of our youth will not have to move away from their families for work and family farms will not need to be sold for those reasons. This is the side that the anti’s do not want anyone to consider.



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